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Scientists find method to make body destroy cancerous cells

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new method in battling cancer has been developed by scientists. Unlike such toxic and invasive techniques such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, the new method makes the body itself destroy cancerous cells.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Pennsylvania State University researchers have identified a molecule -- TIC10 -- which activates a protein that helps fight the disease. The protein, called TRAIL, which stands for tumor-necrosis-factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand,  suppresses tumor development during immune surveillance, which is the immune system's process of patrolling the body for cancer cells.

Typically, this process is lost during cancer progression, which leads to uncontrolled growth and spread of tumors. The chief benefit of using TRAIL is that it is already part of the immune system, unlike the medication that is introduced into the body, leaving behind toxic after effects. 

The microscopic size of TIC10 also makes it more effective than past discoveries as it can cross the blood-brain barrier, which separates the main circulatory system from the brain.

This barrier can prevent cancer treatments from entering the brain, thereby hindering the action of drugs for brain tumors. "We didn't actually anticipate that this molecule would be able to treat brain tumors - that was a pleasant surprise," lead researcher Wafik El-Deiry, an oncologist at Pennsylvania State University says.

An added bonus is that TIC10 does not just activate the TRAIL gene in cancerous cells, but also in healthy ones. Known as the "bystander effect," this is where cells near cancerous cells are also killed.

Nearby healthy cells are also given a boost to increase the number of cancer-killing TRAIL receptors on their cell surface.

El-Deiry is confident that a similar approach would work in humans. "I was surprised and impressed that we were able to do this," noting that previous experiments have been conducted on lab animals.

"Using a small molecule to significantly boost and overcome limitations of the TRAIL pathway appears to be a promising way to address difficult to treat cancers using a safe mechanism already used in those with a normal effective immune system.

"The TRAIL pathway is a powerful way to suppress tumors but current approaches have limitations that we have been trying to overcome to unleash an effective and selective cancer therapy,' El-Deiry says.

The success of TRAIL to trigger cancer cell death has led to ongoing clinical trials with artificially created versions, and early trials have shown that giving the protein in drug form is safe.

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