Scientists have said that small molecules that restrain a selenium- containing enzyme in the human body, could be used to fight cancer.

According to a new study published in the ‘Science Translational Medicine,’ when the molecule was used to tackle cancer in mice, researchers observed rapid tumourkilling effects.

The researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said the new principle for cancer treatment can be extended to treating cancer in humans. Selenium is a chemical element that is an essential micronutrient. Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

These contrast with benign tumours, which do not spread to other parts of the body. There are more that 200 different types of cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and was responsible for 8.8 million deaths in 2015. Globally, one in six deaths is due to cancer. Nigeria records 120,000 new cancer cases yearly.

A selenium-containing enzyme, called TrxR1, can be used to support the growth of various cells and protect them from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the imbalance between the production of free radicals, which are highly reactive with other molecules, and the body’s ability to counteract or to repair the resulting damage.

However, in several forms of cancer raised levels of TrxR1 could be detected. Researchers analysed almost 400,000 different molecules to find new ones that would more specifically control TrxR1 and found three different types which proved to be active as anticancer medicines. The researchers effectively treated over 60 different types of cancer cells under laboratory conditions with these molecules.

Normal cells, however, were much less sensitive to these molecules. The lead researcher in the study, Prof. Elias Arner at Karolinska Institute, said: “This effectiveness against cancer may be a result of cancer cells’ seemingly greater sensitivity to oxidative stress when compared to normal cells, which in turn can be utilised in cancer therapy.