British scientists get cancer cells ‘addicted’ to drugs that will kill them

The technique attacks cancer cells, pictured - credit Shutterstock

The technique attacks cancer cells, pictured - credit Shutterstock

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Scientists have developed a technique to make cancer cells “addicted” to drugs that will kill them within minutes.

The technique, called “mito-priming”, has been hailed by researchers as a breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

Scientists the Beatson Institute in Glasgow, which is run by Cancer Research UK and closely linked to Glasgow University, developed the technique as a research tool while trying to understand how cancer cells die.

The discovery means mito-priming can be applied to identify new anti-cancer drugs to screen their effectiveness, in particular, so-called “BH3-mimetics” medications.
BH3-mimetics – a new class of cancer drugs developed to specifically kill tumour cells – target a family of proteins called BCL-2 proteins, which function to keep cancer cells alive.

While not yet in use in clinical practice, BH3-mimetic anti-cancer drugs are showing promise in late-stage clinical trials, particularly in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

Researchers at Glasgow University’s Institute of Cancer Sciences believe their pioneering mito-priming method can be applied to screen for new drugs to target BCL-2 proteins and help find new ways to kill cancer cells.

Senior lecturer Dr Stephen Tait said: “We have developed a new way to make any cell type sensitive to BH3-mimetic treatment. We term this method mito-priming.

“Mito-priming can be used to rapidly screen for new BH3-mimetics and other anti-cancer drugs, and should improve ways to kill cancer cells.

“It can also be used to rapidly define the potency and specificity of BH3-mimetics.

“Finally, the technique will allow us to understand how drug resistance occurs thereby allowing us to prevent this from happening in the first place.

“There is currently a lot of interest in targeting BCL2 proteins in the fight against cancer and there will be new therapies emerging in the future. We are hopeful our new method of mito-priming can be used as a platform to discover new drugs to target BCL-2 proteins.”

The scientists developed mito-priming by producing equal amounts of toxic and protective BCL-2 proteins in cells.

The research is published in Nature Communications.

The news comes as Cancer Research UK marks World Cancer Day, with the hashtag #ADaytoUnite. The charity is encouraging the public to play their part by wearing a Unity Band or donating toward their research.

Donations to Cancer Research UK help to pioneer research into all 200 types of cancers, and fund over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses in the Britain.