Forcing cancer to digest itself

Melanoma. Credit: Hans-Uwe Simon, Institute of Pharmacology, University of Bern

When tumour cells no longer degrade themselves, cancer may develop. Using black skin cancer as an example, Bern Researchers have now shown that a protein plays an important role in the process of degradation of tumour cells. By reactivating this degradation therapeutically, you can virtually force tumours to digest themselves.

Cells are able to degrade damaged molecules as well as entire areas of cells by self-digestion and use the resulting degradation products to gain energy and to produce new molecules or parts of cells. This process of self-digestion is called autophagy and can be considered a renovation of the cell.

Energy production through autophagy plays an important role for cells when they are lacking nutrients, oxygen or . A team of researchers of the University of Bern under the direction of Hans-Uwe Simon of the Institute of Pharmacology has now found out that a reduced self-digestion of may contribute to the development of a . The discoveries demonstrate new therapy approaches for the treatment of black . The study is being published today in Science Translational Medicine.

Nipping the tumour "in the bud"

The researchers examined the importance of autophagy for the formation of tumours. They particularly studied a central autophagy-regulating protein (ATG5) in a group of nearly 200 patients with melanoma. They found out that changes in the chromosomes - so-called - resulted in the presence of an insufficient quantity of ATG5 in the tumour cells and thus in a restriction of their self-digestion.

Immunofluorescence analysis of a melanoma-containing skin tissue (tumor nests in red). Credit: Hans-Uwe Simon, Institute of Pharmacology, University of Bern

In addition, the group with Hans-Uwe Simon was able to show experimentally that the formation of tumours can be prevented through a therapeutic normalisation of self-digestion. This reveals a new approach for the future therapy of melanomas and perhaps also other at an early stage: "In the future, ATG5 might not only play a role in the diagnosis of melanomas; we also hope for new therapies in order to force tumours at an early stage to digest themselves," Simon explains.

More information: Liu, H. et al. Down-Regulation of Autophagy-Related Protein 5 (ATG5) Contributes to the Pathogenesis of Early- Stage Cutaneous Melanoma, Science Translational Medicine, 11 September 2013. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005864

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Improved effectiveness of chemotherapy for cancer

Aug 15, 2013

Cancer cells often develop defence mechanisms which enable them to survive chemotherapy. A group of researchers from the Institutes of Pharmacology and Pathology in Bern present new solutions for preventing ...

Cancer stem cells isolated from kidney tumors

Dec 13, 2012

Scientists have isolated cancer stem cells that lead to the growth of Wilms' tumours, a type of cancer typically found in the kidneys of young children. The researchers have used these cancer stem cells to test a new therapeutic ...

Study brings greater understanding of tumor growth mechanism

May 16, 2013

A study led by researchers from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry has for the first time revealed how the loss of a particular tumour suppressing protein leads to the abnormal growth of tumours ...

Recommended for you

Survival differences seen for advanced-stage laryngeal cancer

17 hours ago

The five-year survival rate for advanced-stage laryngeal cancer was higher than national levels in a small study at a single academic center performing a high rate of surgical therapy, including a total laryngectomy (removal ...

Gene test aids cancer profile

Nov 27, 2014

The first round of chemotherapy did little to suppress Ron Bose's leukemia. The second round, with 10 times the dose, knocked the proliferating blast cells down, but only by half.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.