Cancer cells committing suicide?

  • 14/10/2006

Cancer cells committing suicide? Scientists have found a way to trick cancer cells into committing suicide. The technique potentially offers the means to personalised anti-cancer therapy.

Most living cells contain a protein called procaspase-3, which, when activated, changes into executioner enzyme caspase-3 and initiates programmed cell death, called apoptosis. In cancer cells, however, the signalling pathway to procaspase-3 is broken. As a result, cancer cells escape destruction and grow into tumours.

"We have identified a small, synthetic compound that directly activates procaspase-3 and induces apoptosis,' says Paul J Hergenrother of the University of Illinois, the author of the study posted online by Nature Chemical Biology. "By bypassing the broken pathway, we can use the cells' own machinery to destroy themselves,' he says.

To find the procaspase activating compound one (PAC-1), Hergenrother, with colleagues from the Seoul National University (South Korea), the National Center for Toxicological Research (the US) and his own university, screened more than 20,000 compounds for the ability to change procaspase-3 into caspase-3. The researchers tested the compound's efficacy in cell cultures and in three mouse models of cancer. They found that PAC killed cancer cells in 23 tumours.

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