Revolutionary new cancer invention developed by UFS and The Swiss University of Zurich

Dr Alice Brink and Prof Andreas Roodt. Picture: Supplied

Dr Alice Brink and Prof Andreas Roodt. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 23, 2022


Johannesburg - A medical procedure invented by researchers from The University of the Free State (UFS), in collaboration with a team from the University of Zürich aims to identify (diagnose) and treat cancer-related tumours in the future.

This invention comes from the universities conducting exciting research over a span of 15 years into cancer diagnoses and treatment.

They have now filed a patent titled ‘Multinuclear complexes and their preparation’.

A patent for this new medical procedure was granted in South Africa and also by the European Patent Office. It is being validated in selected European countries and is pending in the US, Japan, Hong Kong, and India.

The inventors from the UFS are Prof Andreas Roodt, Dr Alice Brink, Dr Pennie Mokolokolo, and Dr Vincent Dumisani Kama and the approach that their technology takes is to enable the synthesis of a multinuclear compound/s, which may contain different pre-selected radioisotopes, to allow both imaging and therapy to the cancer site(s) with the same metal-organic complex.

Dr Pennie Mokolokolo, and Dr Vincent Dumisani Kama. Picture: Supplied

Professors Roodt and Brink explained that this new tool is very important to the medical profession.

“It is rare in the medical profession to treat and track the treatment in real time,” they said.

Roodt and Brink added that many treatment plans follow an extended process which includes: a) the cause of the disease is diagnosed, b) treatment is planned then administered, while c) the success of the treatment is evaluated at a later date.

“By simultaneously treating and diagnosing, doctors will be able to identify if the cancer site is receiving the required therapeutic agent immediately.”

Roodt and Brink are also hopeful when it comes to quantifying the numbers of lives it might save by early diagnosis and treatment.

“It is difficult to accurately quantify but it’s estimated that 30-50% of cancers are caused by lifestyle and, therefore, may be preventable if diagnosis and treatment is received at an early stage,” they said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths. The most common cancers are breast, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate cancers.

There is also a constant need to provide methods to diagnose and treat cancer-related tumours. Current research strategies focus on eliminating cancer cells with the minimum damage to surrounding healthy cells.

The professors explained that a limitation of current technologies is that they are mostly based on the separate identification of cancer (diagnostic), followed by treatment (therapy) using chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

“To fit both needs at the same time and with similar or identical compounds, the principle of theranostic medicine was identified.

“This concept employs both diagnosing (by imaging) cancer and delivering therapy (treatment) simultaneously, which has been receiving increased attention internationally,” they said.

Roodt and Brink said that so far, high-yield production of compounds has been successfully innovated, which contain both an imaging (in particular the widely utilised imaging isotope Technetium-99m) and therapeutic (typically the therapeutic isotope Rhenium-186) radioactive isotope(s), optionally carrying an additional cytotoxic agent. (Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.)

They added that in the next phase of the research, a lead compound portfolio of four to five model pharmaceuticals containing these metal nuclides with appropriate directing groups to target cancer sites will be designed and constructed.

“A number of these entities are known and can be introduced through different techniques. These will then undergo full characterisation and efficacy evaluation in biological models (in vitro), followed by extensive animal and human trials.

“The technology will be delivered as a product or service in the way that current nuclear medicine technologies are delivered,” they said.

Roodt and Brink said that the fact that this product(s) contains both imaging and therapeutic radionuclides or cytotoxic modalities, enables detailed tracking of the pharmaceutical and monitoring of the tumours' response to the therapy.

“Not directly related to the patent, but an asset to it, is the fact that the incorporation of rhenium with a high atomic number (Z = 75) opens the additional opportunity to utilise the multinuclear compounds also as radiosensitisers.

“Synergistic effects, enhancing the therapeutic efficacy, can thus be expected in combination with radiotherapy,” they said.