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Cancer Cells Commit Suicide

They think they found a way to trick cancer cells into committing suicide. It's based on the mechanism regular cells used to destroy themselves if they're defective.

Scientists have found a way to trick cancer cells into committing suicide. The new synthetic compound, which removes a molecular safety catch that activates a natural executioner in the body's cells, could lead to better treatments of cancers including those affecting the lung, skin, breast, kidney and colon.

The body has several defences against cells growing out of control and into tumours - one is to cause defective or dangerous cells to commit suicide. This natural process of cell death, called apoptosis, involves a protein called procaspase-3. When activated, procaspase-3 changes into an enzyme called caspase-3, which begins the cell death. In cancers, this mechanism is often faulty and cells can grow unchecked. Many types of cancer are resistant not only to the body's own signals for cell death but also to the chemotherapy drugs that try to mimic it.

But Paul Hergenrother, a chemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has found a way around the natural biological process that kickstarts apoptosis - a synthetic molecule that directly activates procaspase-3. "This is the first in what could be a host of organic compounds with the ability to directly activate executioner enzymes."

The question is, what happens if the synthetic molecule starts to encourage healthy cells to also activate the procaspace-3 enzyme? Instead of unchecked cancer growth, your cells will start spontaneously dying.

By min | August 28, 2006, 3:10 PM | Science