Jul 22, 2010

New anti-cancer strategy: make tumor cells age




Re­search­ers have identified a chem­i­cal chain of events that leads can­cer cells to age, and thus stop re­pro­duc­ing. By exp­loit­ing this process, they pro­pose, sci­en­tists might be able to de­vel­op new can­cer ther­a­pies.

The mo­lec­u­lar se­quence of events, called a sig­nal­ing path­way, is de­scribed in the March 18 is­sue of the research jour­nal Na­ture by in­ves­ti­ga­tors Pa­o­lo Pan­dolfi of the Har­vard Med­i­cal School and col­leagues.

Can­cer cells are nor­mally able to re­pro­duce them­selves in­def­i­nitely with­out age­ing; this in­deed is a co­re as­pect of the prob­lem con­fronting can­cer vic­tims. The out-of-control cell di­vi­sion leads to the crea­t­ion of an ever-growing load of tu­mors.

The newfound pathway drives cell ag­ing, or “se­nes­cence,” only in can­cerous con­di­tions, according to Pan­dol­fi’s group. A key com­po­nent of the path­way is a gene called Skp2, the sci­en­tists re­ported. By sup­press­ing this gene, they found that they could pro­foundly re­strict tu­mor forma­t­ion in mice by caus­ing can­cer cells to age. The pro­cess curbed cell di­vi­sion.

The re­search­ers al­so found that a Skp2-blocking drug in­duced ag­ing in a lab­o­r­a­to­ry cul­ture of hu­man pros­tate can­cer cells.

Be­cause the new­found ag­ing path­way seems to op­er­ate only in can­cer, it raises hopes that it could prove a use­ful tar­get for an­ti-can­cer treat­ments, which might avoid harm­ing healthy cells, the re­search­ers ar­gued. Such a treat­ment might al­so have the ad­van­tage of op­er­at­ing in a wide ar­ray of dif­fer­ent can­cer types.

“The chal­lenge ahead is to test wheth­er these pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies in mice can be trans­lated in­to more ef­fec­tive can­cer ther­a­pies,” wrote Man­u­el Ser­rano is of the Span­ish Na­tional Can­cer Re­search Cen­tre in Ma­drid, in a com­men­tary ac­com­pa­nying the study in Na­ture.

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