Breakthrough in Cancer Treatment: IIT Madras Engineers Plant Cells for Drug Production

Breakthrough in Cancer Treatment: IIT Madras Engineers Plant Cells for Drug Production


Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, affecting millions of people every year. The treatment of cancer often involves the use of drugs that can kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells. However, these drugs are often expensive, toxic, and have limited availability.

One of the most promising drugs for cancer treatment is camptothecin (CPT), which is a natural compound that can interfere with the DNA replication of cancer cells. CPT is derived from a plant called Nothapodytes nimmoniana, which is native to India and other parts of Asia. However, this plant is endangered due to overharvesting and habitat loss, and the extraction of CPT from it is inefficient and costly.

Metabolic Engineering of Plant Cells

To overcome these challenges, researchers from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Madras and Mandi have developed a novel method to increase the production of CPT using metabolic engineering of plant cells. Metabolic engineering is a technique that involves modifying the genes or enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of a desired product in a living organism.

The researchers used computational tools to create a genome-scale metabolic model for N. nimmoniana plant cells, which is a mathematical representation of all the metabolic reactions and pathways in the cell. Using this model, they identified the key genes and enzymes that regulate the production of CPT and other related alkaloids in the plant cell.

They then genetically modified the plant cells to overexpress or knock down these genes and enzymes, resulting in increased levels of CPT and reduced levels of unwanted by-products. They also optimized the culture conditions and bioprocess parameters to enhance the growth and productivity of the engineered plant cells.

Results and Implications

The researchers reported that their metabolic engineering approach resulted in a 10-fold increase in CPT production compared to the unmodified plant cells. They also demonstrated that their engineered plant cells could produce CPT at a higher rate and yield than a previously reported microbe-based alternative source.

The study, which was funded by the Science and Engineering Board (SERB) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Plant Science . The authors of the study are Prof. Smita Srivastava, Prof. Karthik Raman, Sarayu Murali, and Maziya Ibrahim from IIT Madras, and Prof. Shyam K. Masakapalli and Shagun Saini from IIT Mandi.

The study has significant implications for the development of sustainable and efficient methods for producing CPT and other high-value drugs from plant sources. It can also help conserve the endangered N. nimmoniana plant and reduce its exploitation for commercial purposes.

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