Targeting a protein that helps cancer cells to withstand chemotherapy could drastically improve treatment, according to research in the UK.
The study, which was published in Cancer Cell, looked at a network of proteins that kick into action when cancer cells are treated with a class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes – used to treat several cancers including breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.
The scientists measured the strength of this network in a range of cancers to try and find out why some are more likely to respond to taxane-based chemotherapy and why some are more likely to be resistant.
The team identified one particular component of this network – a protein called Bcl-xL – which helps the cancer cells survive treatment by blocking the self-destruct process that normally kills cells when treated with chemotherapy drugs.
Drugs to block Bcl-xL are already available and, by combining them with taxanes, the researchers showed in the lab that the combination of treatments killed far more cancer cells than taxanes alone.
“This important research shows us there’s potential to boost the cancer-fighting power of chemotherapy – and do more with less,” says study Professor Stephen Taylor of the University of Manchester.
“This new combination could ‘soften-up’ cancer cells, making it easier for chemotherapy to deliver the final blow and destroy the tumour. And the good news is that drugs targeting Bcl-xL are already out there and being tested in clinical trials.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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