When Anna Olivia Healey died of cancer at the age of nine, her grieving parents vowed to honor their daughter’s memory and help find a way to overcome the cruel disease.
Now, more than 20 years later, Steven and Barbara’s goal of saving thousands of other families from the same heartbreak seems within reach.
For scientists, yesterday revealed the results of a “cancer-killing pill” – named in Anna’s honor – that appeared to “destroy” all types of solid tumors being tested against in a lab.
AOH1996, coined with Anna’s initials and year of birth, apparently also left healthy cells unharmed.
Although it has not yet been proven to work in humans, researchers at the prestigious City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles are extremely excited about the preliminary findings.
AOH1996 is named after Anna Olivia Healey, who died in 2005 from a fatal childhood cancer, neuroblastoma
Born in Indianapolis in 1996, Anna, described by her parents as “living lovingly” and who “lived each day with an inspiring positive attitude,” lived with neuroblastoma for five years. Her brother Brian was only six when she died
Since its inception in 2002, the ANNA Fund – set up by Anna’s parents – has raised over $500,000 (£390,000) for neuroblastoma research and families with neuroblastoma
Dr. Linda Malkas, who vowed to do everything she could to tackle the disease after meeting Steve several months before Anna died of neuroblastoma in 2005, said the results were ‘promising’.
AOH1996, a type of targeted chemotherapy, acts on a protein present in dozens of cancers that helps tumors grow and multiply internally.
Until now, the protein – the proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) – was thought to be ‘unusable’.
Dr. Explaining how the drug works, Malkas said, ‘PCNA is like a big hub of an airline terminal with multiple airplane gates.
‘Data suggest that PCNA is uniquely altered in cancer cells.
‘This fact enabled us to design a drug that only targeted the form of PCNA in cancer cells.’
She added: “Our cancer-killing pill is like a blizzard that shuts down a major airline hub and halts all inbound and outbound flights on planes carrying cancer cells.”
AOH1996, not yet officially named, was tested on 70 different cancer cells in a lab – including breast, prostate, ovarian and lung cancers.
Results shared yesterday in the journal Cell Chemical Biology showed it worked against them all.
Since its inception in 2002, the ANNA Fund — founded by Anna’s parents — has raised more than $500,000 (£390,000) for neuroblastoma research and neuroblastoma families.
Born in Indianapolis in 1996, Anna “lived every day with an inspiring positive attitude,” battled neuroblastoma for five years.
Her brother Brian was only six when she died.
Dr. At the time, Malkas was working as an oncologist at the Indianapolis University School of Medicine.
Her first research focused on breast cancer, studying a protein found in cancer cells, but not in normal cells.
Speaking of her work in cancer research last year, Dr Malkas said: ‘She died when she was just nine years old from neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that affects only 600 children in America each year.’ I met Anna’s father when she was in her last stage. I had him sit in my office for two hours and show him all my data on this protein that I had been studying in cancer cells.’ On the photo Anna with her father and brother
Mr. Healey, a photographer, had been asked to take pictures of Dr. Malkas for a newspaper article. There he told her that his daughter, Anna, was at Riley Hospital for Children. At the age of 8, Anna had already lived almost half her life with neuroblastoma
But after meeting Mr. Healey over the course of just two hours, she was inspired to shift her focus and began her research into neuroblastoma.
Speaking of her work last year, Dr Malkas said: ‘She died when she was just nine years old from neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that affects only 600 children in America each year.
‘I met Anna’s father when she was in her last stage.
“I had him sit in my office for two hours and show him all my data on this protein that I had been studying in cancer cells.”
Mr. Healey, a photographer, had been asked to take pictures of Dr. Malkas for a newspaper article.
There he told her that his daughter, Anna, was at Riley Hospital for Children. At the age of 8, Anna had already lived almost half her life with neuroblastoma.
Neuroblastoma accounts for only eight percent of all cancers, but is responsible for 15 percent of all cancer-related deaths.
Months later, Anna’s parents visited the lab again to see for themselves what Dr. Malkas was doing.
“(Steve) asked if there was anything I could do about neuroblastoma and he wrote my lab a check for $25,000 (£20,000),” Dr Malkas said.
“He said, ‘Dr. Malkas, we know you’re doing all this great work on breast cancer, but if you could do something for neuroblastoma, it would mean the world to Barbara and me,” she said. thing in motion.’
She added, “That was the moment that changed my life — my fork in the road. I knew I wanted to do something special for that little girl.”
City of Hope developed AOH1996 to target a cancerous variant of the protein PCNA. In its mutated form, PCNA is critical in DNA replication and repair of all expanding tumors. Left, untreated cancer cells. Correct, cancer cells treated with AOH1996 undergo programmed cell death (purple)
She spoke to several laboratories, but none of them could commit the necessary time and resources.
Then she received a call from the City of Hope, requesting to meet her and discuss the possibility of taking her to their facility.
When Dr. Malkas began her work at the center in 2011, she did so with a mandate: to develop a molecule that would knock out the same protein she had helped identify, PCNA.
In its mutated form, PCNA is ‘critical’ in the replication of DNA and the repair of all ‘spreading tumours’.
The results showed that AOH1996 selectively killed cancer cells by ‘disrupting the normal reproductive cycle of cells’.
As a next step, the researchers will now try to better understand the mechanism of action to further improve the ongoing human clinical trial. A phase one study is already underway.