Dr. Horgen’s lab has been involved in the discovery of a soft coral compound, waixenicin A, the first compound known to be capable of selectively shutting down the ion channel for TRPM7, a protein involved in cancer and stroke. TRPM7 is the main route for magnesium ions to enter the cells of mammals. Because magnesium ions are so critical for the growth and division of cells, shutting down TRPM7 blocks cancer cell growth. Through a network of collaborations that include fellow HPU chemist Dr. Gideon Berger and researchers at The Queens Medical Center and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, waixenicin A is being optimized and investigated as a potential new treatment for cancer. (Hawaii Business News story)
Stroke is another potential application for waixenicin A. Following ischemic stroke, TRPM7 is overactive in brain cells and allows calcium ions to flood into the cells at lethal levels. Based on a building body of evidence—and in a seemingly contradictory effect to killing cancer cells—blocking TRPM7 in the days and hours immediately after a stroke helps brain cells survive, potentially minimizing damage from the stroke. As a starting point for new drugs that inhibit TRPM7, waixenicin A may open up avenues for new therapies to reduce the devastating effects of ischemic stroke.