Forcing cancer to digest itself

September 12, 2013
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.

Explore further: Improved effectiveness of chemotherapy for cancer

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

Related Stories

Improved effectiveness of chemotherapy for cancer

August 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 the development ...

Scientist discovers new target for cancer therapy

January 24, 2013
Tumour cells need far more nutrients than normal cells and these nutrients cannot get into the malignant cells without transporters.

The body's own recycling system: Researchers discover 'molecular emergency brake' in charge of regulating self-digestion

October 12, 2012
Times of distress literally eat away at the core of starving cells: They start to digest their own parts and recycle them for metabolic purposes. Ingo Schmitz at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, ...

Cancer stem cells isolated from kidney tumors

December 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 ...

New inhibitor blocks the oncogenic protein KRAS

August 9, 2013
One of the major goals in the development of anti-cancer treatments is to find an inhibitor effective against the oncogenic protein known as KRAS. Despite decades of active agent research, efforts to intercede in this protein's ...

Recommended for you

A metabolic treatment for pancreatic cancer?

August 15, 2017
Pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer mortality. Its incidence is increasing in parallel with the population increase in obesity, and its five-year survival rate still hovers at just 8 to 9 percent. Research ...

Skewing the aim of targeted cancer therapies

August 15, 2017
Headlines, of late, have touted the successes of targeted gene-based cancer therapies, such as immunotherapies, but, unfortunately, also their failures.

Findings pave way for three-drug combination treatment for childhood leukemia

August 15, 2017
UCLA researchers have developed a new approach that could eventually help young people respond better to treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The scientists discovered in mice that when the production of nucleotides—also ...

Does stronger initial response to cancer treatment predict longer overall survival?

August 15, 2017
It seems like such a simple question: Do patients whose tumors shrink more in response to targeted treatment go on to have better outcomes than patients whose tumors shrink less? Actually, the answer seems simple too. In ...

New study reveals late spread of breast cancer and backs key role of early diagnosis

August 14, 2017
Breast cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body break off and leave the primary tumour at late stages of disease development, scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and their collaborators have found.

Discovery of new prostate cancer biomarkers could improve precision therapy

August 14, 2017
Mayo Clinic researchers have identified a new cause of treatment resistance in prostate cancer. Their discovery also suggests ways to improve prostate cancer therapy. The findings appear in Nature Medicine. In the publication, ...

0 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.