Double trouble for tumour cells

The discovery of how some cancer drugs can deliver a ‘double-hit’ when targeting tumour cells could lead to further advancements in treatment.

Dr Kate Lawlor

A new study has challenged the long-held belief that a type of induced cell death, which is regulated by the BCL-2 family of proteins, attacks cells in only one way.

The findings published in Cell Reports, by Dr Kate Lawlor (Hudson Institute) and Dr James Vince (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research), reveal that activation of cell death in immune cells, using specific anti-cancer drugs, can also drive inflammation and assist treatment.

Dr Lawlor said the study shows how some cancer treatments may be more potent than previously believed.

“Scientists have thought inducing this type of cell death would not cause any immune responses. However, our work has revealed that responses may in fact be triggered through specific BCL-2 family members,” Dr Lawlor said.

Dr Lawlor said that it is likely when cell death is triggered in this way during treatment, immune cells activate a pathway that can prevent further tumour growth. So, cancer progression may be halted.

“We anticipate this new knowledge can be used to improve the treatment of certain types of cancer by providing a ‘double-hit’. That is, to not only trigger the death of tumour cells, but also using the body’s own immune system to help block tumour growth,” Dr Lawlor said.

Importantly, the discoveries highlighted in this report may also have wider applications for other conditions in which cells are in a ‘stressful’ environment, such as bacterial and viral infections, and arthritis and type 2 diabetes.

Team: Dr Kate Lawlor (Hudson Institute) and Dr James Vince (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute) collaborators Professor Benjamin Kile (Monash University), Dr Si Ming Man (Australian National University) and Professor Feng Shao (National Institute of Biological Sciences, China).

These research findings have been published back-to-back in the journal Cell Reports with an independent study by PhD student Dhruv Chauhan and Professor Veit Hornung at the Ludwig-Maximillans-University of Munich, Germany.

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