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Friday 25th May 2018

Cancer breakthrough

29th August 2006

20072006_cells1.jpgA University of Illinois team has created a synthetic molecule which caused cancer cells to self-destruct. Experts say the study, published in Nature Chemical Biology, gave "exciting possibilities" for new ways of treating the disease.

A characteristic of cancer cells is their resistance to the body's cell suicide signals, therefore allowing them to survive and develop into tumours. All cells contain a protein called procaspase-3, which the body should be able to turn into caspase-3, an 'executioner' enzyme.

The transformation of the protein procaspase-3 into caspase-3 does not happen in cancer cells. Examining more than 20,000 structurally different synthetic compounds the researchers attempted to trigger procaspase-3 development into caspase-3.

They found the molecule PAC-1 triggered the transformation; the more procaspase-3 a cancer cell had, the less of the molecule was needed.

Healthy cells, for example white blood cells, have much lower levels of procaspase-3, and were found to be significantly less affected by the addition of PAC-1. Testing PAC-1 on cancerous and non-cancerous tissue from the same person, researchers found the tumour cells were 2,000-fold more sensitive to PAC-1.

The lead researcher, Professor Paul Hergenrother, said: "This is the first in what could be a host of organic compounds with the ability to directly activate executioner enzymes", adding that patients could be selected for treatment based on the amount of procaspase-3 found in their tumour cells.

Dr Michael Olson, an expert from Cancer Research UK said: "These findings present an exciting new therapeutic strategy for the treatment of some cancers. However he said more clinical trials were needed to confirm the safety of the treatment.

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