Protein causes cancer cells to commit suicide

Posted on 2017-10-12

A new novel treatment against acute myeloid leukaemia has caused cancer cells to self-destruct, leaving healthy cells completely untouched. The process of programmed cell death is called apoptosis.

For many reasons, a cell may need to die in order to protect the body. In these circumstances, a protein called BAX or the "Executioner Protein", targets mitochondria of cells and renders them incapable of producing energy, inducing apoptosis. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have activated apoptosis in cancer cells with the help of pro-apoptotic proteins.

Cancers don't die on their own, which is one of the most distinguishable characteristics of cancer cells. They are able to avoid going into apoptosis by producing large quantities of “anti-apoptotic” proteins that suppress a gene called BAX and even the proteins that activate it.

Researchers have created a compound that attaches to the BAX protein's binding site with high affinity, re-activating it to destroy cancer cells.

“Our novel compound revives suppressed BAX molecules in cancer cells by binding with high affinity to BAX’s activation site,” associate professor of medicine and biochemistry and senior author Evripidis Gavathiotis said in a press release.  “BAX can then swing into action, killing cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed.”

One compound from the millions of different molecules that the team screened worked the best for the task. BTSA1 was the best compound against several different human AML cell lines. In AML mice treated with the compound, there was a significantly longer survival rate: 43 percent of the control group was alive and AML-free after 60 days. The BTSA1-treated mice also exhibited no signs of toxicity.

“We’re hopeful that the targeted compounds we’re developing will prove more effective than current anti-cancer therapies by directly causing cancer cells to self-destruct,” Dr. Gavathiotis said in the release. “Ideally, our compounds would be combined with other treatments to kill cancer cells faster and more efficiently—and with fewer adverse effects, which are an all-too-common problem with standard chemotherapies.”

This innovative approach activates and employs the protein responsible for causing cell death to destroy cancer cells, a simple sounding yet complex method.

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