A team of researchers from UK's University of Warwick have created artificial anti-cancer molecules that have the same properties as what is found in the body's natural defense system. The molecules are similar to peptides, which are produced by the body to fight cancer and infection.
The team was led by Professor Peter Scott, and they published their findings in Nature Chemistry. In lab tests, the researchers found the molecules to be an effective defense against colon cancer cells.
This isn't the first time artificial peptides have been created, but the process has usually been difficult and too expensive to manufacture in large numbers. The new process, however, only takes a few minutes and doesn't require the use of costly equipment.
"The chemistry involved is like throwing Lego blocks into a bag, giving them a shake, and finding that you made a model of the Death Star" said Professor Scott. "The design to achieve that takes some thought and computing power, but once you've worked it out the method can be used to make a lot of complicated molecular objects."
The artificial peptides are also able to assemble themselves.
"When the organic chemicals involved, an amino alcohol derivative and a picoline, are mixed with iron chloride in a solvent, such as water or methanol, they form strong bonds and are designed to naturally fold together in minutes to form a helix. It's all thermodynamically downhill. The assembly instructions are encoded in the chemicals themselves," Professor Scott explained. "Once the solvent has been removed we are left with the peptide mimics in the form of crystals. There are no complicated separations to do, and unlike a Lego model kit there are no mysterious bits left over. In practical terms, the chemistry is pretty conventional. The beauty is that these big molecules assemble themselves. Nature uses this kind of self-assembly to make complex asymmetric molecules like proteins all the time, but doing it artificially is a major challenge."
The artificial cancer-fighting molecules still require further testing before researchers begin performing clinical trails on patients.