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Scientists discover ‘self-destruct switch’ in lung cancer cells

Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Institute have discovered that a certain drug combination can trigger the cell ‘self-destruct’ process within lung cancer cells. This new discovery could in turn lead to numerous new treatments and help thousands of lung cancer patients in their fight against the disease.

In the human body, healthy cells which are no longer useful initiate a process which ultimately leads to their self-destruction. However, the difference between healthy cells and cancerous cells is that cancerous cells have an innate fault which leads to this not happening – and instead the cancerous cells become ‘immortal’ and spread, encouraging more tumours to form.
Using lung cancer cells within mice, scientists showed experts that the combination of two drugs called TRAIL and a CDK9 inhibitor managed to alter the ‘switch’ inside the cell self-destruct process.Now, the Cancer Research team at the UCL Cancer Institute have successfully fixed the cellular fault within cancerous cells, allowing them to ‘re-programme’ and self-destruct when necessary.

Lead researcher, Professor Henning Walczak from Cancer Research UK at the UCL Cancer Institute said, “Igniting the fuse that causes lung cancer cells to self-destruct could pave the way to completely new treatment approach – and leave healthy cells unharmed. The next step of our work will see how this approach works in other cancer types, and we hope it could ultimately lead to testing this technique in trials to see if it can help patients.”

Neil Barrie, Senior Science Information Manager at Cancer Research UK add: “This important research builds on the progress we’ve made to understand the routes cancer cells use to stay alive. Understanding and targeting these processes will move us closer to our goal of three out of four people beating cancer within the next 20 years.”

He added; “There is an urgent need to save more lives from lung cancer and we hope these findings will one day lead to effective new treatments to help lung cancer patients and potentially those with other cancer types, too.”

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