Scientists have made a promising step forward in the ongoing fight against cancer, developing a new way to trigger cancer cell death that might eventually give us a new treatment option with better results than current methods.
Called Caspase-Independent Cell Death, it was able to completely eradicate tumours in colorectal cancer cells grown in the lab.
If the same effects can be reproduced in humans, then we could be looking at a treatment that can kill off cancers in a way that’s less harmful to the body and with a lower chance of the cancer coming back, according to the team from the University of Glasgow in the UK. “In essence, this mechanism has the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapy and reduce unwanted toxicity,” says one of the researchers, Stephen Tait.
These therapies can miss some of their targets, which means cancer cells don’t get eliminated and the tumours have a better chance of coming back, and can also be damaging to healthy cells, as anyone who’s been through chemotherapy will tell you.
When cells are killed off with CICD, the researchers found, they send a signal to the immune system that can then attack any remaining cancer cells. The hypothesis is that a therapy wouldn’t have to kill off all the cancer cells itself, because the body’s own immune system would swoop in and finish the job.
“This new research suggests there could be a better way to kill cancer cells which, as an added bonus, also activates the immune system,” says Justine Alford from Cancer Research UK, who wasn’t directly involved in the research.