Scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a platinum compound that is said to be as powerful as anticancer drug cisplatin but more effective in destroying tumour cells.

The new compound called, mitaplatin, combines cisplatin with another compound, dichloroacetate (DCA), that alters the properties of mitochondria selectively in cancer cells. Cancer cells switch their mitochondrial properties to change the way they metabolise glucose compared to normal cells, and DCA specifically targets the altered mitochondria, leaving normal cells intact.

“This differential effect conveys on mitaplatin the ability to kill cancer cells selectively in a co-culture with normal fibroblast cells, the latter being unaffected at the doses that we apply,” said Stephen Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry.

During the study, chemists designed mitaplatin so that when it enters a cell, it releases cisplatin and two units of DCA by intracellular reduction. Therefore, mitaplatin can attack nuclear DNA with cisplatin and mitochondria with DCA. DCA promotes the release of cell-death-promoting factors from the mitochondria, enhancing the cancer cell-killing abilities of cisplatin.

The study has shown that in rodents, mitaplatin can be tolerated at much higher doses than cisplatin, and they have begun studies in mice transplanted with human tissues.

If those results are promising, the researchers plan to conduct further studies demonstrating mitaplatin’s ability in cancer therapy.