New drugs to beat cancers endemic in developing countries

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Nasopharyngeal and lung cancers in particular, are endemic in countries across South Asia, such as Indonesia and Vietnam . Current cancer treatments include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but scientists are searching for more effective treatments with fewer and less unpleasant side effects.

Recent findings from this UK-China research collaboration could signal a new era for treatment of not only nasopharyngeal, but also lung cancer, now the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in China. The team discovered novel compounds of the rare precious metal iridium, some of which originally arrived on earth 66 million years ago in an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Researchers discovered that when iridium is attached to albumin, a protein in our blood, it can penetrate into the nucleus of cancer cells and destroy them when blasted with light, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

The research has the potential to significantly reduce the burden of endemic cancers on developing countries, which often lack the resources and infrastructure to fight cancer, as well as benefiting healthcare systems worldwide.

In recognition of the quality and innovation of this research, Dr Zhang has been appointed Associate Professor at Shenzhen University. During her Newton fellowship, Dr Zhang received advanced training from world-leading experts at the University of Warwick which she can now transfer to young researchers at Shenzhen University to speed up the discovery of new anti-cancer compounds.

Research links established between UK and Chinese academics will lead to lasting collaborations, and also have potential to translate new drugs into the clinic as a UK-China joint development.

Dr Pingyu Zhang, Associate Professor, Shenzen University


Novel approaches to the design of multitargeted drugs to  treat endemic cancers

Project leads: Professor Peter Sadler FRS, University of Warwick, UK and Dr Pingyu Zhang, Shenzhen University, China

Delivery partners: Royal Society, UK and National Natural Science Foundation of China

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