According to an article published recently in the online journal Molecular Cell, researchers from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, have found a new technique for eliminating cancer cells. This new approach can prove to be highly effective in the treatment all types of cancer.
In this article, the scientists have explained why some patients with cancer fail to respond to chemotherapy drugs and have also highlighted a new mechanism that can be used to target resistant tumors. This has been considered to be a significant step towards personalized medicine.
'Apoptosis' or programmed cell death, which is a normal component of the development and health of multi-cellular organisms, was until recently the only process known to cause cell death. This process is often arrested in cancer cells, resulting in ineffectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. Scientists have now found that some drugs lead to cell death through a newly discovered process called necroptosis and not by apoptosis. This discovery was made while the scientists were studying the mechanism of action of a class of chemotherapy drugs called topoisomerase inhibitors.
A significant finding revealed by researchers was the possibility to kill cancer cells (even apoptosis-resistant tumor cells) by leading them to necroptosis. In the laboratory, necroptosis was achieved by the team of scientists by activation of some specific proteins identified by them in the cancer cells.
Professor Pascal Meier, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR, who is also the author of the study 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."
Scientists believe that activation of the specific proteins identified by them could effectively kill cancer cells. These proteins could also act as a new target for the development of new, more effective, targeted therapies with fewer side effects for patients.
It also means that certain chemotherapeutic drugs should not be prescribed to patients whose tumors do not contain these proteins.
The good news is that, SMAC-mimetics, a drug which targets one of the proteins in this complex, is already showing promise in ongoing clinical trials. These results further strengthen the argument that SMAC-mimetics could be an effective cancer treatment for some patients.
Dr Julia Wilson, Head of Research Management at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, 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."
"The Ripoptosome, a Signaling Platform that Assembles in Response to Genotoxic Stress and Loss of IAPs"
Tencho Tenevsend, Katiuscia Bianchi, Maurice Darding, Meike Broemer, Claudia Langlais, Fredrik Wallberg, Anna Zachariou, Juanita Lopez, Marion MacFarlane, Kelvin Cain, Pascal Meiersend
Molecular Cell, 07 July 2011. 10.1016/j.molcel.2011.06.006