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Chemotherapy, a life-saving treatment for many cancer patients, may not be fully effective due to doctors’ misunderstanding of how certain cancer drugs combat tumors, according to University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers.

Microtubule poison drugs alter cell mitosis 

Scientists and doctors have long thought that microtubule poison drugs inhibit cancerous cell division to treat tumors. However, recent research suggests that these drugs don’t necessarily halt cell division but instead alter the process of mitosis. In some instances, these alterations can be significant enough to lead to the death of new cancer cells and support cancer regression.

Cancers spread through uncontrolled cell division, whereas normal cells have limited division capabilities. The belief that microtubule poisons inhibit cancer cell division stemmed from lab studies supporting this idea.

A recent study, led by Beth Weaver, oncology and cell and regenerative biology professor, in partnership with Mark Burkard from the departments of oncology and medicine and supported by the National Institutes of Health, builds upon previous research findings related to the microtubule poison paclitaxel, commonly prescribed under brand names like Taxol for treating various malignancies.

Paclitaxel alters mitosis in cancerous cells 

Weaver expressed astonishment at previous research, challenging the conventional belief that paclitaxel arrests tumors in mitosis. This widely held belief, taught to graduate students and confirmed in lab experiments, was based on using concentrations higher than those found in tumors.

Researchers aimed to investigate whether other microtubule poisons function similarly to paclitaxel, potentially by altering mitosis instead of halting it. This inquiry has significant implications for cancer treatment development, as it plays a pivotal role in drug discovery by understanding and enhancing therapeutic mechanisms. Therefore, accurate comprehension of current drug operations is crucial for advancing modern medicine.

For years researchers have been trying to find alternative cancer therapies that work similarly to microtubule poisons, which are effective for many patients. Despite numerous past attempts, they have faced challenges in identifying new compounds to halt cell division in cancer treatment. The scientific community continues to investigate mitotic arrest as a mechanism to kill tumors.