Mystery solved of source of anti-cancer effects in pregnancy hormone

June 24, 2014 by William Raillant-Clark, University of Montreal
Mystery solved of source of anti-cancer effects in pregnancy hormone
Credit: iStock Photo

(Medical Xpress)—University of Montreal scientists have identified a small molecule found in pregnant women's urine that apparently blocks the growth of several types of cancers, including AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, which currently has no cure. Their study results will be presented Monday at the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and The Endocrine Society: ICE/ENDO 2014 in Chicago.

These findings resurrect a nearly 20-year controversy over whether (hCG), a hormone produced in high amounts during pregnancy, or its core fragments, or something else yields anti HIV and cancer-fighting activity against Kaposi's sarcoma tumors. Some researchers in the mid-1990s reported that "clinical-grade" hCG—crude or partially purified preparations of hCG extracted from 's urine—shrunk these AIDS tumors, but they later retracted their original claim that hCG itself was the active component responsible for activity against Kaposi's sarcoma.

"The real compound has been elusive," said principal investigator Tony Antakly, PhD, a biochemist at the University of Montreal, who said it has taken his small group of researchers more than 12 years to find the answer.

Early on, and shortly before this retraction, Antakly's group tested highly purified or recombinant hCG in Kaposi's and found no anti-cancer effects. They concluded that the cancer-fighting compound, closely associated with the pregnancy hormone, must be removed when hCG is purified. Both clinical-grade and recombinant hCG are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as prescription medications for the treatment of select cases of female infertility and as hormone treatment for men.

The researchers narrowed their search to small molecular weight factors present in clinical-grade hCG that they called hCG-like inhibitory products, or HIP. To find the active molecule or part of a molecule, they used a biochemical approach involving systematically splitting the molecule (fractionation), repeatedly performing biological assays and chemical characterization.

Their results indicate that a small metabolite—the product of transformation of a larger molecule carried throughout blood and urine—into a potent bioactive metabolite that affects living tissue.

"We don't know if it changes only when needed," Antakly said. "Perhaps in cancer, it changes to fight the disease."

This HIP metabolite, they discovered, rides "piggyback" on the larger hCG molecule, which chaperones it to target cells. When hCG is extensively purified, the metabolite loses its ride and disappears, Antakly stated.

However, when he and his colleagues exposed human Kaposi's sarcoma cells in tissue cultures to hCG after purification from pregnant women's urine, he said the active HIP metabolite "wiped out the completely."

Antakly said they do not yet know whether a synthetic replica of the HIP metabolite, which they are developing, is safe and effective to use at high doses in patients with cancer. However, in preliminary tests in cancer patients, they have shown that the "natural" HIP (purified from clinical-grade hCG) is safe and has anti-cancer activity.

Explore further: Most hospital pregnancy tests found to be unreliable after first few weeks of pregnancy

Related Stories

Most hospital pregnancy tests found to be unreliable after first few weeks of pregnancy

April 10, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Though the 11 most popular hospital urine pregnancy tests perform well in the first month after conception, a new study published in Clinical Chemistry, the journal of AACC, reveals the alarming statistic ...

Blood kisspeptin level test may identify pregnant women at high risk for miscarriage

June 23, 2014
Measuring pregnant women's blood kisspeptin levels early in their pregnancy may effectively predict their risk of miscarriage, a new study finds. The results were presented Saturday at ICE/ENDO 2014, the joint meeting of ...

Studies reveal more clues on how pregnancy protects against breast cancer

April 7, 2014
Scientists at Fox Chase Cancer Center have unearthed new clues about how pregnancy reduces women's risk of developing breast cancer. The research will be presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014.

Combined use of oxytocin and Human Chorionic Gonadotropin in intractable pain patients

March 10, 2014
Two hormones credited with reducing pain and need for opioid analgesics when released naturally during pregnancy and childbirth worked similarly when administered simultaneously to patients with intractable pain, research ...

Recommended for you

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.