'Do Anthracyclines Elevate Intracellular Oxidative Stress?' by Anthony Purcell
Anthracyclines are a type of anti-cancer drug. While they are highly effective at treating cancer, in some patients they cause heart failure, though it isn’t clear why. We do know that anthracyclines increase the number of highly damaging molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS). This leads to a condition called oxidative stress which kills cancer cells. However, oxidative stress also causes the heart to fail, so to prevent this we must understand to what extent anthracyclines increase cellular oxidative stress.
To do this we developed a technique to measure oxidative stress in single cancer cells. We then co-treated cancer cells with anthracyclines and a compound known as an antioxidant which protect cells against oxidative stress. This was to ascertain if we could reduce damaging levels of oxidative stress while maintaining an anti-cancer activity.
Our findings show that clinically relevant concentrations of anthracyclines increase oxidative stress in cancer cells leading to their death. When cancer cells were co-treated with antioxidants, oxidative stress was decreased but fewer cancer cells were killed.Our data demonstrates that anthracyclines do kill cancer cells by increasing oxidative stress. It is likely that this is also the case in heart cells which may contribute to anthracycline-induced heart failure. Though we need to confirm this, reducing oxidative stress in the heart remains a logical way to prevent heart failure. However, our data also shows we must specifically target oxidative stress in the heart so as not to reduce the effectiveness of anthracyclines as an anti-cancer drug.