A DISCOVERY about the way healthy cells and tumours do battle in the body could open up completely new strategies for tackling cancer, it was claimed yesterday.
Scientists showed for the first time that normal and cancerous cells in mammals engage in deadly gladiatorial contests.
The losers are killed by a process of induced biological suicide called apoptosis. Which it will be – healthy or tumour cells – is decided by genes and proteins.
If the balance is in favour of the cancer cells, they will cut a swathe through the healthy cells around them and spread.
However, if the healthy cells get the upper hand, they will surround and eliminate the cancer cells.
Although “cell wars” have been seen before in fruit flies, scientists did not know until now they also occurred in mammals – presumably including humans. In future, it may be possible to “tip the balance” so that healthy cells win in the struggle with cancer, experts believe.
Dr Yasuyuki Fujita, who led the Medical Research Council team at University College London, said: “If we can build on this knowledge and improve our understanding of how this happens, in the future we may be able to find a way to enhance this ability and develop a totally new way of preventing and treating cancer.”
The research, reported yesterday in the online journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology, has implications for treating common solid tumours of the sort that form in the breast, prostate, lung, stomach and bowel.
The scientists carried out experiments on laboratory-cultured dog kidney cells, and identified two key proteins that helped determine the outcome of the contest between “good” and “bad” cells.
Cancer cells that lacked the proteins, called Lgl and Mahjong were likely to end up the losers.
The mutant cells underwent cell suicide when they were surrounded by cells in which the proteins were active.
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