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A New Understanding of the Anti-Cancer Drug Taxol

Scientists have discovered exactly how the anti-cancer drug Taxol works, and the discovery could lead to designing better medicines.

Taxol, one of the most widely prescribed anti-cancer drugs globally, disrupts the workings of microtubules, part of the cell’s skeleton. That disruption helps kill the division of cells, especially cancer cells, which rapidly spread.

“Efforts towards understanding these chemotherapeutics better are very important, because there are some microtubule differences in cancer cells versus normal cells that maybe we can exploit,” said principal author Eva Nogales, a biophysicist, UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “We are not there yet, but this is the kind of analysis we need to get there.”

Nogales found that Taxol inserts itself into the tubulin protein, the basic structural unit of the microtubule, freezing it in place and unable to carry out its deadly function. In reaching that discovery, Nogales and her team used cryoelectron microscopy, a technique in which samples are frozen and probed with a high-powered electron beam.

The findings were reported in the journal Cell.

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