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Inspired by young girl, scientists develop a pill that 'appears to annihilate all solid tumors'

The drug, AOH1996, was named after 9-year-old Anna Olivia Healy, who passed away following her battle with neuroblastoma.

Inspired by young girl, scientists develop a pill that 'appears to annihilate all solid tumors'
Cover Image Source: A.N.N.A. Fund

Early research gives cancer patients some hope as scientists have developed a drug containing a molecule called AOH1996 that "appears to annihilate all solid tumors" in preclinical research and leave healthy cells unaffected. The study titled "Small Molecule Targeting of Transcription-Replication Conflict for Selective Chemotherapy" was published in the Cell Chemical Biology journal on August 1. As reported by the Independent, the pill has been shown to be effective in treating cells derived from breast, prostate, brain, ovarian, cervical, skin and lung cancers. While research is still in its early stages, scientists remain hopeful.

Representational Image Source: Pexels | Artem Podrez
Representational Image Source: Pexels | Artem Podrez

The drug targets a cancerous variant of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), a protein that plays a critical role in making tumors expand. "PCNA is like a major airline terminal hub containing multiple plane gates. Data suggests PCNA is uniquely altered in cancer cells, and this fact allowed us to design a drug that targeted only the form of PCNA in cancer cells. Our cancer-killing pill is like a snowstorm that closes a key airline hub, shutting down all flights in and out only in planes carrying cancer cells," Linda Malkas of the leading cancer research center, City of Hope in Duarte, California, explained.


The findings were fuelled by 9-year-old Anna Olivia Healy, who died from neuroblastoma in 2005 after a devastating battle with the cancer. The drug, AOH1996, has been named after her (Anna Olivia Healy was born in 1996.) Malkas, who has been developing the pill over the past 20 years, knew she "wanted to do something special for that little girl," according to Malkas's statement to The New York Post

"She died when she was only 9 years old from neuroblastoma, a children's cancer that affects only 600 kids in America each year," she said. Malkas added that she met Anna's father "when she was at her end stages... he asked if I could do something about neuroblastoma and he wrote my lab a check for $25,000. That was the moment that changed my life — my fork in the road."


The charity, A.N.N.A. Fund (Anna Needs Neuroblastoma Answers) has raised $400,000 for neuroblastoma research and to help families impacted by the disease since 2002. The charity's website is run by the young girl's dad Steve, 57, and mom, Barb Healey, 56.

"My wife and I thought there was no way to fully thank friends, family and strangers for their outpouring of love and support shown for our daughter. No way until the establishment of A.N.N.A.," Steve wrote on the family’s website. "Through awareness and monetary support by people like you, we will be able to pass that same love and concern on to other families in our situation," he added.

Image Source: A.N.N.A. Fund
Image Source: A.N.N.A. Fund

Researchers like Malkas hope that the drug could someday be a useful tool in combination therapies as well as developing new chemotherapeutics. "We were too late to help Anna, but we could help others like her," Malkas said. "I always say when you see me, there's a small 9-year-old girl sitting on my right shoulder. She's my touchstone."

Cover Image Source:  A.N.N.A. Fund
Image Source: A.N.N.A. Fund

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