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The anti-tumor effect of a chelating phen-based ligand 2,9-di-sec-butyl-1,10-phenanthroline (dsBPT) and its combination with cisplatin were examined in both lung and head and neck cancer cell lines and xenograft animal models in this study. The effects of this agent on cell cycle and apoptosis were investigated. Protein markers relevant to these mechanisms were also assessed. We found that the inhibitory effect of dsBPT on lung and head and neck cancer cell growth (IC50 ranged between 0.1–0.2 μM) was 10 times greater than that on normal epithelial cells. dsBPT alone induced autophagy, G1 cell cycle arrest, and apoptosis. Our in vivo studies indicated that dsBPT inhibited tumor growth in a dose-dependent manner in a head and neck cancer xenograft mouse model. The combination of dsBPT with cisplatin synergistically inhibited cancer cell growth with a combination index of 0.3. Moreover, the combination significantly reduced tumor volume as compared with the untreated control (p = 0.0017) in a head and neck cancer xenograft model. No organ related toxicities were observed in treated animals. Our data suggest that dsBPT is a novel and potent antitumor drug that warrants further preclinical and clinical development either as a single agent or in combination with known chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin.


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