New peptide compound triggers enhanced tumor cell death

A team of researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute developed a new compound that appears to trigger cancer cell suicide.

The compound is known as a stapled BIM BH3 peptide, and appeared to bind with anti-apoptotic proteins in mice, leading to enhanced cell death, or "apoptosis," in cancer cells, the researchers explain.

But wait, there's more: The scientists say the compound additionally suppressed tumor growth in mice, and worked with other pharmaceutical agents that also promote cell death in cancer. And then there's this: The stapled BIM BH3 peptide appeared to work well in killing tumor cells in acute myeloid leukemia in mice, but also caused little damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Researchers say they focused on the BCL-2 protein family because it has been known to influence whether cancer cells live or die after being bombarded with drugs or chemotherapy. Essentially, expressions of pro-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins nudge cancer cells toward suicide, but the cancer fights back when smacked with chemotherapy by boosting production of anti-apoptotic proteins, which negate the effectiveness of their pro-apoptotic counterparts and diminish the effectiveness of treatment. That makes the BIM BH3 protein so intriguing, as it is modeled from the pro-apoptotic side of the BCL-2 proteins. 

We know that a cancer treatment based on this concept is years away. But the finding reinforces the promise of developing specific treatments focused on neutralizing cancer's fight against cell death, particularly in the BCL-2 protein families, the researchers assert. It will be interesting to follow subsequent animal and human trials to see if this concept bears fruit.

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