Scientists in the UK have found a new way to combat cancer by getting tumour cells addicted to drugs that will kill them in minutes.
Scientists at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow, which is run by Cancer Research UK and closely linked to Glasgow University, developed the "significant" technique as a research tool while trying to understand how cancer cells die.
The technique called "mito-priming" was published today in 'Nature Communications' as the latest method to be developed by researchers in the fight against cancer.
It means mito-priming can be applied to identify new anti-cancer drugs to screen their effectiveness.
According to the paper, BH3-mimetics are a promising new class of cancer drugs developed to specifically kill tumour cells.
They 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 are hopeful the 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.
Stephen Tait, the lead author of the paper 'Mito-priming as a method to engineer Bcl-2 Addiction', writes: "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," he wrote.
Finally, the technique will allow us to understand how drug resistance occurs thereby allowing us to prevent this from happening in the first place, he added.
"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," Tait said.
The scientists developed mito-priming by producing equal amounts of toxic and protective BCL-2 proteins in cells.
Tait said: "Cells in this state are very sensitive to inhibition of protective BCL-2 function by BH3-mimetics, such that they die within a few minutes of drug addiction".
The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Royal Society and Tenovus Scotland.