A new way of making cancer cells die has been discovered by scientists, a breakthrough that could eventually lead to new treatments for a range of different cancers. AICR partly funded the study, carried out by a collaborative research team working between the universities of Manchester and Southampton. They investigated how antibody treatments make cancer cells kill themselves and found a previously undiscovered mechanism that could, in future, be even more effective in causing their death. It is well known that when antibodies bind to cells, including cancer cells, they can ‘flag’ those targets for destruction by the body’s immune system. By contrast, the research shows that antibodies can kill cancer cells directly. When the antibody binds, it causes lysosomes (small acid containing sacs) inside the cell to swell and burst, rapidly releasing their toxic contents with fatal results for the cancer cell.
A number of antibody treatments for cancer have been developed over the last decade and some of them are a huge step forward in treatment. The current research identifies how some of these kill cancer cells and provides exciting insights into how other antibodies that use this mechanism might be developed.
Dr Mark Cragg, from the University of Southampton, who together with Prof. Tim Illidge, from the University of Manchester, led the research said: “Our findings are significant and open up the possibility of applying the knowledge of how antibodies can be developed to trigger cell death and may enable us to design treatments for other cancers.”
The large study was funded by AICR, Leukaemia Research, Cancer Research UK and Tenovus. AICR's Dr Mark Matfield said: “The discovery of a new mechanism by which cancer cells kill themselves is an important step forward in cancer research. Killing the cancer cells is the basis of all successful cancer treatments.”
Here is a radio interview with Dr Cragg.