Scientists find a new mechanism that causes cancer cells to self-destruct

Cancer is the single name assigned to more than 100 diseases. It is the result of abnormal cells that multiply and spread out of control, damaging healthy cells along the way. Most cancers result in tumors but those that affect the blood do not. Many cancer patients struggle with the adverse effects of chemotherapy, still the most prescribed cancer treatment. These effects include hair loss, vomiting, fatigue and anaemia. However, in some ways, this is an improvement to patients with cancers that can’t be treated.

A newly-discovered mechanism involves the modification of specific proteins that affect the construction and stability of the spindle, the microtubular structure that prepares duplicated chromosomes for segregation into “daughter” cells during cell division.

The researchers found that certain compounds called Phenanthridine derivatives were able to diminish the activity of these proteins, which can distort the spindle structure and prevent the segregation of chromosomes. Once the proteins were modified, the cell was prevented from splitting, and this induced the cell’s rapid self-destruction.

“The mechanism we identified during the mitosis of cancer cells is specifically targeted by the Phenanthridine derivatives we tested,” Prof. Cohen-Armon stated. “However, a variety of additional drugs that also modify these specific proteins may now be developed for cancer cell self-destruction during cell division. The faster the cancer cells proliferate, the more quickly they are expected to die.”

Research was conducted using both cancer cell cultures and mice transplanted with human cancer cells. Furthermore, mice transplanted with triple negative treat cancer cells, currently resistant to available therapies, revealed the arrest of tumor growth.

“Identifying the mechanism and showing its relevance in treating developed tumors opens new avenues for the eradication of rapidly developing aggressive cancers without damaging healthy tissues,” said Prof. Cohen-Armon.

Current research is being carried out with Phenanthridine to see if it has any effect against two forms of aggressive cancer.

This research holds a lot of promise in looking for an alternative method to treating cancer, which is far less damaging than chemotherapy.

Prof. Cohen-Armon has said that “the discovery of an exclusive mechanism that kills cancer cells without impairing healthy cells, and the fact that this mechanism works on a variety of rapidly proliferating human cancer cells, is very exciting,”

He further states “According to the mechanism we discovered, the faster cancer cells proliferate, the faster and more efficiently they will be eradicated. The mechanism unleashed during mitosis may be suitable for treating aggressive cancers that are unaffected by traditional chemotherapy.”

*Note: Phenanthridine is a nitrogen heterocyclic compound that is the basis of DNA-binding fluorescent dyesthrough intercalation.*

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