Exploiting Cancer Metal Metabolism using Anti-Cancer Metal- Binding Agents

Curr Med Chem. 2019;26(2):302-322. doi: 10.2174/0929867324666170705120809.


Metals are vital cellular elements necessary for multiple indispensable biological processes of living organisms, including energy transduction and cell proliferation. Interestingly, alterations in metal levels and also changes in the expression of proteins involved in metal metabolism have been demonstrated in a variety of cancers. Considering this and the important role of metals for cell growth, the development of drugs that sequester metals has become an attractive target for the development of novel anti-cancer agents. Interest in this field has surged with the design and development of new generations of chelators of the thiosemicarbazone class. These ligands have shown potent anticancer and anti-metastatic activity in vitro and in vivo. Due to their efficacy and safe toxicological assessment, some of these agents have recently entered multi-center clinical trials as therapeutics for advanced and resistant tumors. This review highlights the role and changes in homeostasis of metals in cancer and emphasizes the pre-clinical development and clinical assessment of metal ion-binding agents, namely, thiosemicarbazones, as antitumor agents.

Keywords: Metals; anti-cancer drugs; cancer; chelators; copper and zinc; iron..

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chelating Agents / chemistry
  • Chelating Agents / pharmacology
  • Chelating Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Metals, Heavy / chemistry
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Thiosemicarbazones / chemistry
  • Thiosemicarbazones / pharmacology
  • Thiosemicarbazones / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Chelating Agents
  • Ligands
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Thiosemicarbazones