Cancer cure may have been found by UI professor

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- A miracle cure could be on its way for one of the deadliest forms of cancer, and it was created right in our own backyard.

An unconventional test led to doctors thinking it could be successful in people.

A drug discovered at the UI more than a decade ago is now being tested for cancer, but the study started on one of our closest companions, our pets.

Splashing around in the water might be the norm for Breta now, but not too long ago, her future looked grim.

"Changes in behavior or maybe had seizures and that prompted the recommendations to do advanced imaging," Dr. Timothy Fan, UI College of Veterinary Medicine professor, said.

Breta was diagnosed with a brain tumor and Dr. Fan said her only hope was to take part in a clinical trial.

"A big question for us is in a patient that has a pre-existing brain tumor, how will that patient respond to PAC-1?" Dr. Fan explained.

PAC-1 is a compound created in a lab just down the street from him by UI Chemistry Professor Dr. Paul Hergenrother.

"We discovered the compound over 10 years ago, and that was just cancer cells in a dish basically, and it had a pretty unusual way of killing cancer cells that was pretty interesting," Dr. Hergenrother explained the process.

The first step was to try it out on Dr. Fan's patients.

"Many clinical trials are done really for the pure benefit of the pet dog or cat with no real link to the human medicine field," Dr. Fan said.

That's where PAC-1 is different. The drug is now being offered to people with late-stage brain cancer.

"Pets are companion animals, and they're exposed to many of the toxins that are in carcinogens, and as a result of that, unfortunately, they come down with some of the same types of cancers that we do," Dr. Hergenrother explained.

Unlike other drugs, Dr. Hergenrother said PAC-1 actually gets into the brain to start working.

"Drugs that don't penetrate into the brain typically are less effective in treating brain cancer, so that's one of the reasons we're optimistic about this one," he said.

Although in the early study stages in people, the success rate in dog patients also brings hope.

"Sometimes in cancer it's small incremental increases, and sometimes you can find a real breakthrough," Dr. Hergenrother said.

A breakthrough for one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

"This is like a fairytale," Dr. Fan said. "A fairytale that started and we're still very early in that fairytale, but we're hopeful that this will end in a Cinderella type story."

Just like it did for Breta.

The very early stages of the human trial has begun. Doctors say phase one is all about safety. Once they determine that PAC-1 is safe, then they study how successful it is.

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