The bad guys attacking themselves so the good guys win sounds like a movie plot. However, scientists in the United Kingdom are optimistic that the best weapon against cancer is getting the cancer cells to kill each other. Recent research finding on lung cancer indicate that this “bad guy self-destruct” scenario might not be fictional in the future.
Researchers from Cancer Research UK have found a combination of drugs that trigger lung cancer cells to self-destruct. Still in the early stages of research, the discovery could revolutionize lung cancer treatment.
Normal healthy cells eventually self-destruct when no longer needed or viable. Cancer cells do not do this. They continue to live, and grow out of control, eventually forming malignant tumors. The new medication tested, however, ignited the lung cancer cells to self-destruct and leave healthy cells unharmed, according to lead researcher Dr. Henning Walczak, from University College London Cancer Institute.
The second most diagnosed form on cancer in the U.S., lung cancer is one of the most deadly. In fact, more Americans die from lung cancer than any other form of cancer. The number of cases diagnosed annually has been decreasing with the decline of smoking. However, more than 207,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, and 157,000 died that year. According to the CDC, the death toll from lung cancer worldwide is about 1.6 million per year.
In the UK study, the team used two drugs, TRAIL and a CDK9 inhibitor, on lung cancer cells from mice. In a Mission Impossible or sci fi scenario, they forced the cells to alter their molecular behavior with the drugs and encourage the cancer cells to eventually self-destruct like normal cells. In the study, which will be presented next week at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Liverpool, England, he scientists report that the mice’s healthy cells were not affected negatively by the combination of potent drugs.
Walczak said their process, which ignited a process that caused the lung cancer cells to self-destruct during their testing, could lead to a completely new treatment approach. He noted that the next step of their research work to prove to find the best weapon against lung cancer is to see if their approach works similarly with other types of cancer. Walczak added, “We hope it could ultimately lead to testing this technique in trials to see if it can help patients.”
Senior science information manager with Cancer Research UK Nell Barrie added, “This important research builds on the progress we’ve made to understand the routes cancer cells use to stay alive.” Barrie noted the urgent need to do something to save more lung cancer patients and their hope that the research will lead to new treatments for lung and other forms of cancer.
The research team emphasizes that the drug combination research is still in its early stages, but they are optimistic about their lung cancer results. The team’s next steps will be to see how this cancer-killing approach works best as a weapon against different types of cancers, “We hope it could ultimately lead to testing this technique in trials to see if it can help patients,” Walczak said.
By Dyanne Weiss