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MONDAY, June 23, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A new way of forcing cancer cells to self-destruct has been discovered by researchers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The Memphis institution reports its finding in the June 20 issue of Molecular Cell.
The research suggests drugs designed to activate this form of cell suicide -- called apoptosis -- may help fight cancer. Such a strategy would target specific molecules in cancer cells rather than relying on chemotherapy, which can cause serious side effects and drastically degrade quality of life for cancer patients.
The St. Jude researchers triggered apoptosis in cancer cells using a drug called rapamycin, which blocks the action of a protein called mTOR.
The mTOR protein stimulates a biochemical pathway that increases production of proteins that are essential for cancer cell proliferation. By blocking mTOR, rapamycin prevents the cancer cells from making these critical proteins and eventually causes the cells to self-destruct.
"Right now, we don't know exactly what sends the cell into crisis after rapamycin blocks mTOR. Further study is needed to determine what the link is between shutting down production of specific proteins and the cellular crisis that prompts cells to undergo apoptosis," researcher Peter Houghton, chairman of the St. Jude department of molecular pharmacology, said in a news release.
Here's where you can learn more about apoptosis.