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Is It Possible to Remove the Camouflage from Cancer Cells?

Scientists at Freie Universität Berlin Took an Important Step Forward in Cancer Research

№ 129/2014 from Apr 22, 2014

Researchers led by Professor Jörg Rademann at the Institute of Pharmacy, Freie Universität Berlin, have succeeded in inhibiting the development of a protective layer of cancer cells. Cancer cells have sophisticated strategies for making themselves invisible to the human immune system. One of these strategies is to build a protective layer of special sugar molecules, the sialic acids, which allows the cells to virtually hide from the immune cells. With the help of this "camouflage," the cancer cells detach themselves from the primary tumor tissue and form secondary, ultimately fatal, tumors, known as metastases. The Rademann group has taken an important step toward preventing the build-up of such a protective layer. They published their findings in the recent online issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie – international Edition.

For decades, scientists around the world have been investigating the structure of the protective layer of cancer cells. Their aim is to create tools to prevent the development of the structure. In their experiments the researchers at Freie Universität initially targeted the natural building blocks for the construction of the protective layer. They then changed the components used in the cell so that they were still perceived by the relevant enzymes but not incorporated in the protective shield. Instead, the artificially designed building blocks glued so tightly to the enzyme that they could not be transferred to the shield and thus blocked the process.

In collaboration with scientists at the University Hospital in Halle and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology, the group led by Jörg Rademann was able to demonstrate that these obstructing components are absorbed well by the cells. With the help of dye markers, the researchers were able to show that these molecules are transported to the location where the protective shield is built. The molecules then inhibit the transmission of natural building blocks, significantly reducing the protective layer of the cancer cells.


Johannes J. Preidl, Vinaya S. Gnanaprassam, Michael Lisurek, Jörn Saupe, Rüdiger Horstkorte, Jörg Rademann: "Fluorescent Mimetics of CMP-Neu5Ac Are Highly Potent, Cell-Permeable Polarization Probes of Eukaryotic and Bacterial Sialyltransferases and Inhibit Cellular Sialylation" in: Angewandte Chemie – International Edition, doi: 10.1002/anie.201400394 (English version), 10.1002/ange.201400394 (German version).

Further Information

Prof. Dr. Jörg Rademann, Institute of Pharmacy, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-53272 and -56206, Email: j.rademann@fu-berlin.de