Cancer cells baited into suicide
Scientists have developed a way to prompt cancerous cells to kill themselves in mice. Traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy work by damaging cancer cells. Once the cells sustain enough damage a trigger is activated, which leads to programmed cell death, called apoptosis. One problem is that often the cells aren’t damaged enough to undergo apoptosis and instead get repaired.
The remaining cells are responsible for the low success rate of some current treatments, so cancers can often return, even after multiple cycles of treatment. The new strategy uses small DNA fragments called Dbaits which mimic the two broken ends of DNA that come from cellular damage and trigger apoptosis.
Lab mice injected with Dbaits before radiotherapy had most of their cancer cells wiped out compared with only third to one half eliminated using radiotherapy alone. What’s more, there was no damage to healthy tissue, which often occurs during radiotherapy.
This technique could lower the dose of radiation required and would be especially useful for treating cancers that are known to develop resistance to radiotherapy, such as brain and skin cancers. The researchers are hopeful that clinical trials could start by the end of 2010.