Researchers reveal how a new class of drugs kills cancer cells

May 20, 2016
Dr. Stefan Glaser from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Credit: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

A team of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers has worked out how a new class of anti-cancer drugs kills cancer cells, a finding that helps explain how cancer cells may become resistant to treatment.

The researchers studied a class of called BET inhibitors, which are considered promising for the treatment of blood cancers such as leukaemias and lymphomas. BET inhibitors reduce by blocking BET proteins, a family of proteins that control whether genes are switched on or off.

Although it has been known that BET inhibitors are effective at halting tumour growth, it has been unclear whether the drugs kill outright or merely pause their growth.

Dr Zhen Xu, Professor David Huang, Dr Stefan Glaser and their colleagues have answered this question and in the process have identified potential ways in which cancer cells may develop resistance to BET inhibitors. Their findings have been published in the journal Leukaemia.

When tumours are treated with drugs, some can survive and continue to grow, leading to disease relapse.

The experiments performed by postdoctoral researcher Dr Xu revealed that BET inhibitors principally act to kill cancer cells through the process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Dr Xu showed that for BET inhibitors to successfully kill lymphoma and myeloid leukemia cells the presence of a protein called BIM, which brings on apoptosis, was critical.

"We found that when apoptosis was impaired, for instance by loss of BIM, the BET inhibitors were no longer effective," he said. "This suggests that cancer cells that acquire mutations in genes that drive apoptosis will lose sensitivity to BET inhibitors and thus will be able to survive treatment, leading to disease relapse."

Dr Glaser said understanding how BET inhibitors worked could help researchers develop improved strategies for using these drugs to treat cancer.

"Understanding how the drugs work gives us the opportunity to investigate new treatments, for example by using combination therapies, or altering the dosage and timing of treatment to prevent drug resistance from emerging," Dr Glaser said.

Explore further: New proteins discovered that link obesity-driven diabetes to cancer

Related Stories

New proteins discovered that link obesity-driven diabetes to cancer

March 23, 2016
For the first time, researchers have determined how bromodomain (BRD) proteins work in type 2 diabetes, which may lead to a better understanding of the link between adult-onset diabetes and certain cancers.

New drug combination shows promise for resistant leukaemia

May 18, 2016
Patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) can look forward to the development of new therapies following the discovery by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers of a new way to kill cells that are dangerously multiplying.

New cancer drugs could treat lethal resistant prostate cancers

May 1, 2016
Men with aggressive prostate cancer that has stopped responding to conventional treatment could potentially benefit from a new class of cancer drug designed to overcome drug resistance, a new study suggests.

New target for prostate cancer resistant to anti-hormone therapies

April 23, 2014
Prostate cancer becomes deadly when anti-hormone treatments stop working. Now a new study suggests a way to block the hormones at their entrance.

Scientists discover how cells overpower cancer drug

September 15, 2015
Cancer Research UK scientists have found how cells adapt to overcome cancer drugs designed to interfere with their genetic controls, according to a study published today in Epigenetics and Chromatin.

New generation mTOR inhibitors aim to combat drug-resistant tumors

May 18, 2016
Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have designed a potential cancer therapy that uses a unique strategy to block mTOR, a molecule that helps drive the growth of many tumors. In animal experiments, the drug reduces ...

Recommended for you

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

Discovery could lead to better results for patients undergoing radiation

July 19, 2017
More than half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, in which high doses of radiation are aimed at diseased tissue to kill cancer cells. But due to a phenomenon known as radiation-induced bystander effect (RIBE), in which ...

Definitive genomic study reveals alterations driving most medulloblastoma brain tumors

July 19, 2017
The most comprehensive analysis yet of medulloblastoma has identified genomic changes responsible for more than 75 percent of the brain tumors, including two new suspected cancer genes that were found exclusively in the least ...

Novel CRISPR-Cas9 screening enables discovery of new targets to aid cancer immunotherapy

July 19, 2017
A novel screening method developed by a team at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to test the function of thousands of tumor genes in mice—has ...

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.