What does a Greek God and former McGill Chemistry Professor Bernard Belleau OC FRSC have in common?

Published: 21 September 2023

Bernard Belleau was famous for developing the nucleoside analogue 3TC for viral treatment. Here, we show that a nucleoside analogue triggers a cell death mechanism named after Thanos, the Greek God of nonviolent deaths. The nucleoside analog, cytarabine, has been used as the frontline treatment of leukemia for more than 50 years, but patient survival rates are less than 20%. Our work revealed that when patient’s cancer cells underwent parthanatos upon treatment rather than another cell death pathway called apoptosis, the length of patient survival was 3 times longer compared to other leukemia patients. Our findings revealed a better understanding of how cytarabine kills leukemia cells, providing important new targets for the development of small molecule drugs and RNA therapeutics.

Bruk Maru is a PhD Candidate in the McKeague lab (link: She collaborator with Prof. Nathan Luedtke (link: and researchers in Europe on this work. She is an NSERC PROMOTE Trainee (link: and is currently working on using her findings to develop RNA therapeutics to improve leukemia treatment.


For more information, please visit PARP-1 improves leukemia outcomes by inducing parthanatos during chemotherapy (

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