Experts at Glasgow University revealed the breakthrough yesterday and told how it can help sufferers.
The new method – Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD) – led to the complete eradication of tumours in experimental models. Currently, most anti-cancer therapies (chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy) work through a process called apoptosis, which activates proteins known as caspases, leading to cell death.
However in apoptosis, therapies often fail to kill all cancer cells, leading to disease recurrence and can have unwanted side effects that may even promote cancer. Now, the Scots scientists believe they may have found a way to improve therapy while pre–venting unwanted toxicity.
Dr Stephen Tait of the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute of Cancer Sciences, said: “Our re–search found triggering Caspase-Independent Cell Death (CICD) but not apoptosis, often led to complete tumour regression.
“Our data suggests that triggering tumour-specific CICD, rather than apoptosis, may be a more effective way to treat cancer.”
Unlike apoptosis, when cancer cells die through CICD, they alert the immune system through inflammatory proteins.
That can then attack the remaining tumour cells that evaded initial therapy-induced death.
The researchers used lab-grown colorectal cancer cells to show the advantage of killing cancer cells via CICD. However, these benefits may be applicable to a wide-range of cancer types.
Dr Tait added: “In essence, this mechanism has the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapy and reduce unwanted toxicity.
“Taking into consideration our findings, we propose that engaging CICD as a means of anti-cancer therapy warrants further investigation.
“What we found in ess-ence is, the cells that undergo Caspase Independent Cell Death, they stimulate an immune response against the rest of the rumour
“In effect, you do not necessarily need to kill all the tumour cells with therapy because we’ve elicited an immune response that then clears out the remaining tumour – in doing so eradicating the cancer.”
Latest figures show that half of Britons born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.
Experts say four-in-10 cancer cases are linked to lifestyle factors. Smoking remains the largest single preventable cause.
More than half of cancer deaths in the UK are of people aged 75 years and over.
Last night, cancer research bodies in the UK gave the new research a warm welcome.
Dr Justine Alford, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer, said: “Although many cancer treatments work by triggering apoptosis, that method sometimes fails to finish the job and instead may lead to the tumour becoming harder to treat.
“This new research suggests there could be a better way to kill cancer cells which, as an added bonus, also activates the immune system.
“Now, scientists need to investigate this idea further and, if further studies confirm it is effective, develop ways to trigger this particular route of cell death in humans.”
The research paper is published in Nature Cell Biology and was majority funded by Cancer Research UK.