A study by French and Swedish researchers has found that cancer cells could be modified to cause them to self-destruct. Yahoo News reports that the study was specifically carried out on glioblastomas, which is one of the most common and aggressive forms of brain tumour.
The established treatment for glioblastoma is surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. However, most adults diagnosed with the condition die within two years. Glioblastoma cells contain a protein known as IRE1 that is particularly resistant to chemotherapy.
Researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden carried out a joint research project that involved screening 15 million molecules to see how they reacted with proteins in the body.
When tested against cancer cells, the scientists found that a certain molecule known as Z4P was instrumental in reducing the potency of cancer cells and also made it more difficult for them to spread around the body.
The method was tested on mice in combination with a drug called temozolomide that is used to treat glioblastomas. It was found that the tumour shrank and did not return even after 200 days.
Eric Chevet, head of a cancer research laboratory of INSERM said: “Cancer cells are stressed cells, they’re not normal, they’re fundamentally stressed, and they end up using stress response mechanisms to gain advantages.”
He added: “The advantage is that they are more resistant, stronger and able to migrate, so they are better able to withstand additional stresses such as chemotherapy.”
Leif Eriksson, professor of physical chemistry at the University of Gothenburg and co-author of the study added: “We have now succeeded in stopping this hijacking by inserting a specially developed molecule in the cells that inhibits one of these hijacked adaptive mechanisms in the cancer cells. This causes the cancer to self-destruct.”
He continued: “Today, cancer treatment consists of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, all cancer cells are not killed and the tumour returns. Once the cancer relapses, the tumour cells have often spread and developed resistance.”
“These are the first clear results with brain tumours that can lead to a treatment which completely avoids surgery and radiation. We have also begun studying the use of our substance on other aggressive tumour forms like pancreatic cancer, triple-negative breast cancer and certain liver cancers.”
“It largely depends on whether funding comes in that allows taking the different steps as smoothly as possible. If I’m optimistic, perhaps it might take five years. That’s a short timeframe, but at the same time glioblastomas are nearly 100 per cent fatal, so any improvement in medical care is major progress.”
While this is promising news for people who have received a distressing diagnosis of a glioblastoma, it seems that it will be several years before it can be approved as a safe and effective brain tumour treatment. Glioblastomas can currently be treated by Mr George Samandouras at Queen Square Radiosurgery Centre, the part of Amethyst Radiotherapy UK.