Researchers from Canada, France, Germany and the United States reporting in the journal Cell have found a new ground-breaking way of killing cancer cells.
Traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy cause damage to healthy cells, and other more targeted treatments are usually only effective for individual types of cancer. Contrastingly, a new potential treatment does not damage healthy cells and could also be used to treat a wide variety of different cancers.
“Cancer cells grow and divide much more rapidly than normal cells, meaning they have a much higher demand for and are often starved of, nutrients and oxygen,” explained study co-author Prof Chris Proud of the University of Southampton.
“We have discovered that a cellular component, eEF2K (eukaryotic elongation factor 2 kinase), plays a critical role in allowing cancer cells to survive nutrient starvation, whilst normal, healthy cells do not usually require eEF2K in order to survive. Therefore, by blocking the function of eEF2K, we should be able to kill cancer cells, without harming normal, healthy cells in the process.”
Almost all cells in the human body contain the same basic components, meaning that to attack one of them in a cancer cell, that component will also be affected in normal cells.
Prof Proud and his colleagues have identified a specific protein that is not necessary in normal cells but seems to be important to the survival of cancerous cells. A treatment that could block this protein could represent a significant breakthrough in the future of cancer treatment.
The scientists are now working to develop and test drugs that block eEF2K, which could potentially be used to treat cancer in the future.
Bibliographic information: Gabriel Leprivier et al. 2013. The eEF2 Kinase Confers Resistance to Nutrient Deprivation by Blocking Translation Elongation. Cell, vol. 153, no. 5, pp. 1064-1079; doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.04.055