Dr. Lynne Samuelson, a research chemist from Natick Soldier Center and a pioneer of enzymatic template polymerization, suggested increasing the water solubility of these novel compounds by tethering them to a large molecule called polystyrene sulfonate.
This templated reaction made the naturally occurring catechin oligomer longer lived and more water soluble, but the modified compound was still not effective against cancer cells at doses that could be administered to humans.
Jayant Kumar, director of the Center for Advanced Materials at University of Massachusetts -Lowell, then suggested adding ethanol, an alcohol, to try to make the compound more efficient. While growing up, Bruno attended Jesuit schools in Italy.
He remembered the fountains in the schools' cafeterias filled with both water and wine and suggested adding 10 percent ethanol to the solution, which appears to be the correct combination.
This was a key to the development of the new anti-carcinogens and made these new compounds effective at very low doses.
With increased stability and effectiveness, this family of compounds is now being tested for its efficacy against a wide variety of different human cancers by another University of Massachusetts collaborator, Dr. Susan J. Braunhut, and her team.
This Defense Department Breast Cancer Program is now funding this research.
With the help of Dr. Ramaswamy Nagarajan, additional funds were obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency in the form of an award to a graduate student, Subhalakshmi Nagarajan, at University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
A patent application has been filed, and the next step will be to try to continue the research in vivo, with living organisms, with results hopefully just as positive.
"Over the next year we plan to begin testing in mice for the drug's effectiveness against transplanted human tumors," Bruno said.
"There are many other types of catechins, for instance, those that are found in white tea," he added. "We have only touched the surface."
This has been a "good collaboration" between University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Natick Soldier Center, according to Bruno, and although this is definitely not part of Natick Soldier Center's mission, Bruno said he sees the research as "totally revolutionary, with an incredible future."