Cancer chemotherapy breakthrough could save thousands of lives, say Manchester University

A breakthrough into cancer research which could lead to better treatment and save thousands of lives a year has been published in a study by Manchester University.

The report identifies how cancer cells could be better targeted and have less resistance towards chemotherapy.

The discovery was made while researchers were exploring possible mechanisms behind resistance to chemotherapy drugs, such as Paclitaxel, which are often used to treat breast and colon cancer.

Dr Andrew Gilmore, leader of the research team, explained the purpose of the study and the importance of the new findings.

“Cells replicate and divide through a process known as mitosis,” he said.

“This process is carefully controlled and if any mistake is made during normal division then the cell undergoes apoptosis, otherwise known as controlled cell death.

“Failure of cells to complete mitosis correctly can be the start of cancer.

“We wanted to understand how this failure – delay of cell division – activates apoptosis and why some cancer cells may be able to avoid being killed.”

Cancer cells replicate rapidly, and chemotherapy drugs such as paclitaxel target mitosis as a way to kill these quickly dividing cells but cancer cells can develop resistance to the drugs.

The paper, entitled Cell Reports, could lead to the development of drugs which can better target cells and reduce the resistance they have to treatment.

Dr Gilmore, who is also part of the Welcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research and the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, found a particular protein known as ‘Bid’ in colon cancer cells.

Tests found that when Bid was ‘switched on’, it was the point at which sells prepared to divide and it primed the cells to die if division took too long, which can be the start of cancer.

Cancer cells that were resistant to chemotherapy still turned Bid on but went through mitosis too quickly for Bid to have an impact and kill the cell.

However, the resistant cells could be made to die by directly targeting the part of the cell where Bid worked.

Experts are hoping this breakthrough will have a ‘huge benefit’ and ‘help patients who suffer from advanced stages of colon cancer’.

At present, colon cancer is the fourth most common in the UK and these findings could have a dramatic effect on thousands of people’s lives.

“Our findings demonstrate that Bid plays a central role in mitosis-related cell death,” said Dr Gilmore.

“This opens up new areas of research into drugs that might be able to kill cancer cells that have become resistant to chemotherapy.”

Image courtesy of Marianne Williams / Machine Project, with thanks

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