Making Cancer Cells Kill Themselves

Thursday, 16 November, 2000

A breakthrough by scientists may lead to new methods of fighting cancer by making tumour cells kill themselves.

In the United Kingdom researchers at the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology have shown that it is possible to harness the body's natural cell-suicide mechanism to destroy targeted cells. If applied to cancer, it could provide a way of wiping out tumour cells without causing any detrimental side effects.

Programmed cell death - apoptosis - has a vital function clearing out damaged and dangerous cells and helping to shape tissue development. The new approach employs a well-tried method of cell targeting using antibodies, immune-system substances that bind on to specific protein molecules.

Researchers fused a cell-suicide trigger, an enzyme called caspase 3, to an antibody to form a "˜warhead' that could be guided to selected cells.

When two or more molecules of caspase 3 are brought in close proximity to each other in a cell, they cause apoptosis. The amino-acid building blocks that make up the cell's structural proteins are broken apart and the cell dies.

The scientists based their experiments on Chinese hamster ovary cells. The experiment was only a model to demonstrate that the system works. But the scientists believe it could be developed into a powerful anti-cancer therapy.

For further information please contact the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, on ph: +44 1223 248011 or fax: +44 1223 213556.

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