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How do you make cancer cells self-detonate?

  • Researcher: Dr Grant Dewson
  • Institution: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
  • Award Amount: £201,487 for 6 months from June 2014
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
How do you make cancer cells self-detonate?

Most healthy cells have a limited lifespan and messages tell them to die when they become old or faulty, unlike cancer cells which often fail to die. Cancer occurs when these old or faulty cells keep growing and dividing in an uncontrolled manner, forming a tumour.

One way the cancer cells avoid dying is by stopping a self-destruction mechanism, known as apoptosis. Two key proteins turned on during apoptosis are Bak and Bax and incorrectly turning them on or off has a big impact on the development of cancer and its treatment. In fact there have been promising clinical trials carried out in patients using drugs that turn on Bak and Bax, causing the cancer cells to self-destruct.

But lab based studies have suggested that certain cancer cells may not respond, or may become resistant to this type of treatment, as the cancer cells counteract the cell suicide messages with pro-survival messages.

Dr Grant Dewson is now researching, in intricate detail, how the Bak and Bax proteins are turned on. He believes he may have found a novel way that could turn them on whilst bypassing the pro-survival messages. He hopes that his work could allow the design of new drugs that can cause a broader range of cancer cells to die and potentially reduce the worry of the patient becoming resistant.

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