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Surprise discovery: Joint Russian/American Covid-19 research leads instead to breakthrough in children’s cancer treatment

Surprise discovery: Joint Russian/American Covid-19 research leads instead to breakthrough in children’s cancer treatment
In a combined effort between Russian and US scientists, a new anti-cancer substance has been discovered that could help in the fight against neuroblastomas. The disease is the most common form of cancer in babies.

Funded by grants from both nations, researchers at the North Caucasus Federal University (NCFU) in Stavropol and at Texas State University stumbled upon the compound while testing for potential Covid-19 treatments. Rather than detecting anti-coronavirus properties, scientists were instead surprised to find a much different use for the substance in combating neuroblastomas.

Neuroblastoma is an especially widespread and unpleasant strain of cancer. It occurs in roughly one in 7,000 children and is associated with 15 percent of all deaths due to childhood cancer, and is the most prevalent of all in babies. It most commonly targets nerve tissue in the adrenal glands but can wreak havoc in a range of places across the abdomen, from the neck all the way down the spine.

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“The researchers described the synthesis of a substance which will help humankind to fight neuroblastoma, one of the most dangerous types of cancer,” the NCFU press service told news agency TASS on Tuesday. “Initially, the chemists were trying to obtain the compounds to fight Covid-19; however, the anti-cancer activity of these substances turned out to be much higher.”

The findings of the study have been published in the weekly journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry. These results were obtained under the direction of scientists Nikolai Aksenov and Alexander Aksenov, according to a method developed in 2010 called the Aksenov Reaction.

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"[The reaction] is based on introducing an amine group to an aromatic substance and is very promising,” professor Alexander Aksenov was quoted as saying. This development, as the scientists note, has a great significance for the extraction of such compounds from accessible raw materials. It is hoped that this new substance will enable scientists to provide more effective treatment and to lower the costs of treating the disease.

The research was conducted within the framework of two grants, from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and the US National Institutes of Health.

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