Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

New cancer treatment may be more effective than chemotherapy

New method kills cancer cells and activates the immune system

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 29 August 2017 13:27 BST
Most current anti-cancer therapies often fail to kill all cancer cells
Most current anti-cancer therapies often fail to kill all cancer cells (American Cancer Society/Getty Images)

A newly discovered process to trigger the death of cancer cells could be more effective than current methods such as chemotherapy, scientists have said.

The new method of killing cancer cells, called Caspase Independent Cell Death (CICD), led to the complete eradication of tumours in experimental models.

Most current anti-cancer therapies (chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy) work by killing cancer cells through a process called apoptosis, which activates proteins called caspases, leading to cell death.

However in apoptosis, therapies often fail to kill all cancer cells, leading to disease recurrence, and can also have unwanted side effects that may even promote cancer.

Cancer Research's new ad is a live colonoscopy

Scientists from the University of Glasgow wanted to develop a way to improve therapy that induces cancer cell killing while also mitigating unwanted toxicity.

"Our research found that triggering Caspase-Independent Cell Death (CICD), but not apoptosis, often led to complete tumour regression.

"Especially under conditions of partial therapeutic response, as our experiments mimic, our data suggests that triggering tumour-specific CICD, rather than apoptosis, may be a more effective way to treat cancer," Dr Stephen Tait, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, from the Institute of Cancer Sciences, said.

Unlike apoptosis, which is a silent form of cell death, when cancer cells die through CICD, they alert the immune system through the release of inflammatory proteins.

The immune system can then attack the remaining tumour cells that evaded initial therapy-induced death.

In research published in Nature Cell Biology, 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."

The paper was majority funded by Cancer Research UK.

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."

Additional reporting by PA

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in