Credit: Unsplash / Drew Hays

Glasgow University researchers develop new, low-risk cancer treatment

Credit: Unsplash / Drew Hays

Chloë Spence

The discovery of a new, low-risk method of killing cancer cells has “the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapy”, according to a recent paper published by researchers at the University of Glasgow.

The treatment, which involves the triggering of a process known as known as Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD), was found in this study to be both more effective and less dangerous than traditional therapies, with potentially significant implications for future treatment and research.

At present, the majority of cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation, work through the process of apoptosis. Apoptosis involves the activation of proteins called caspases, resulting in cell death. However, this process frequently fails to eliminate all diseased cells, causing disease recurrence, and is also associated with undesirable and potentially cancer-promoting side effects. By contrast, researchers using CICD found that this completely eradicated lab-grown tumours, with reduced toxic side effects.

Lead author Dr Stephen Tait: “Our research found that triggering Caspase-Independent Cell Death (CICD), but not apoptosis, often led to complete tumour regression. Especially under conditions of partial therapeutic response, as our experiments mimic, our data suggests that triggering tumour-specific CICD, rather than apoptosis, may be a more effective way to treat cancer.”

“Furthermore, unlike in the “silent” cell death of apoptosis, cells dying through CICD also alert the immune system by releasing inflammatory proteins. This provokes the immune system to destroy any remaining tumour cells, thus preventing disease recurrence.”

“What we found in essence is the cells that undergo Caspase Independent Cell Death, they stimulate an immune response against the rest of the tumour. In effect, you don’t necessarily need to kill all the tumour cells with therapy because we’ve now elicited an immune response that then clears out the remaining tumour – in doing so eradicating the cancer.”

While this study involved lab-grown colorectal of the colon and rectum cancer cells, it is believed that the treatment’s benefits may extend to many different types of cancer. Cancer is among the UK’s most prevalent killers, with the NHS attributing 42% of premature deaths to this cause and recent figures estimating that around half of Britons born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. UK survival rates have also lagged behind the majority of European countries in recent years, with five year survival rates falling below the European means for all common cancers except melanoma skin cancer.

The study was published in Nature Cell Biology on 28 August and was mainly funded by Cancer Research UK. Dr Justine Alford, Cancer Research’s senior science information officer stated: “This new research suggests that there could be a better way to kill cancer cells which, as an added bonus, also activates the immune system.

“Now scientists need to investigate this idea further and, if further studies confirm it is effective, develop ways to trigger this particular route of cell death in humans.”


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