Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered a way to make cancer cells self-destruct.

In a study published last month in medical journal Oncotarget, researchers discuss the role of three proteins in killing fast-duplicating cancer cells. These proteins can be modified during the division process (or mitosis for those of you that remember GCSE biology). They subsequently unleash a so-called "death mechanism" that stops cancer cells from duplicating.

This method could theoretically be used to treat aggressive forms of pancreatic and breast cancer, known to be unresponsive to current forms of chemotherapy.

Professor Malka Cohen-Armon, who lead the research said:

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

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.

Our experiments in cell cultures tested a variety of incurable human cancer types — breast, lung, ovary, colon, pancreas, blood, brain.

This discovery impacts existing cancer research by identifying a new specific target mechanism that exclusively and rapidly eradicates cancer cells without damaging normally proliferating human cells.

The researchers found that compounds (called phenanthridine) impaired the activity of proteins in the cancer cells, which consequently prevented the segregation of chromosomes and stopped the cell splitting leading to its self-destruction.

Researchers used both mice transplanted with human cells and cancer cell cultures.

Professor Cohen-Armon said

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.

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 tissue

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