New line of attack
Scientists at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre (which Too Many Women is raising money for) have uncovered a new way of killing cancer cells, opening up a potentially highly effective avenue of attack in the fight against all forms of the disease.
This is an important step towards personalised medicine and will help to shed light on why cancer patients can fail to respond to some chemotherapy drugs as well as reveal a new way of targeting resistant tumours.
WHAT IS IT?
Until recently, it was thought cells could only die through a process called apoptosis. Because apoptosis is often blocked in cancer cells, drugs frequently don’t work, allowing tumour cells to grow and spread. In work published today online in the Molecular Cell journal, the team found some chemotherapeutics actually worked through a newly-discovered form of cell death, known as necroptosis.
Importantly, they found in the laboratory it was possible to activate a set of proteins and push cancer cells into this form of cell death, raising hope of new targeted treatments that could also kill apoptosis-resistant tumour cells.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Study leader Professor Pascal Meier, from the Breakthrough Research Centre said:
“These findings represent a new line of attack in the fight against cancer. Chemotherapy has been around for decades but we have never understood how it kills cancer cells. This work shows not only that it can happen by two different processes, but how drugs can be developed to activate this newly discovered second cell-killing process in a much smarter, more effective way. We are at an early stage with this work but it could represent a new way of thinking about how we treat cancer patients in the future.”
Dr Julia Wilson, Head of Research Management at Breakthrough said:
“This work is a major advance in our understanding of how cancer cells work, and how we can combat the disease. It suggests we can use chemotherapy more intelligently, and develop treatments which more precisely exploit this newfound weakness for the benefit of patients. We want to make sure that all breast cancer patients get the right treatment for them and this is a step towards that goal.”
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