Scientists at Glasgow University have discovered a more effective method of triggering the death of cancer cells.
Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD) has led to the complete eradication of tumours in experimental models.
Currently most anti-cancer thereapies (chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy) kill cancer cells through apoptosis, a process which activates proteins called caspases, leading to cell death. However apoptosis therapies often fail to kill all cancer cells, leading potentially to relapse. They can also have unwanted side effects that may even promote cancer.
The Glasgow scientists wanted to develop a therapy that kills cancer cells while also mitigating toxicity.
Dr Stephen Tait, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, Institute of Cancer Sciences, said:
"Our research found that triggering Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD), not apoptosis, often led to complete tumour regression. Especially under conditions of partial therapeutic response, as our experiments mimic, our data suggests that triggering tumour-specific CICD, rather than apoptosis, may be a more effective way to treat cancer."
Unlike apoptosis, which is a silent form of cell death, when cancer cells die through CICD, they alert the immune system through the release of inflammatory proteins.The immune system can then attack the remaining tumour cells that evaded initial therapy-induced death.
The researchers used lab-grown colorectal cancer cells to show the advantage of killing cancer cells via CICD. These benefits may apply to a wide-range of cancers.
Dr Tait added:
"In essence, this mechanism has the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapy and reduce unwanted toxicity. Taking into consideration our findings, we propose that engaging CICD as a means of anti-cancer therapy warrants further investigation."
Dr Justine Alford, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, said:
"Although many cancer treatments work by triggering apoptosis, that method sometimes fails to finish the job and instead may lead to the tumour becoming harder to treat. This new research suggests there could be a better way to kill cancer cells which, as an added bonus, also activates the immune system. Now scientists need to investigate this idea further and, if further studies confirm it is effective, develop ways to trigger this particular route of cell death in humans."
Kenneth Gibson MSP commented:
"It is early days but this exciting development will give real hope to huge numbers of people. It is also heartening that such cutting edge medical research; research which could benefit all humanity, is taking place here in Scotland now.
"We led the world in discovering anaesthetics, insulin and penicillin. This is yet another medical development that could save and change countless lives."
The research paper, Mitochondrial permeabilization engages NF-kB-dependent anti-tumour activity under caspase deficiency, is published in Nature Cell Biology and was funded primarily by Cancer Research UK.