Researchers at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have made a discovery that could help create a new way to treat cancer. Their findings show that a protein called MCL-1 helps a number of cancers to stay alive.
Cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma rely on MCL-1 to sustain their survival and cancer cell expansion. Dr Gemma Kelly from WEHI’s Molecular Genetics of Cancer division says:
“We found that these cancer cells could be killed by disabling MCL-1, which was keeping the cancer cells alive.”
Prior to this discovery, it was only known that cancer cells rely on the BCL-2 family of proteins but it was unclear which family members were sustaining the cancer cells. BCL-2 is a known cause of a number of cancers including prostate, breast, leukemia, lung cancer and melanoma. Now that researchers know it is MCL-1, work can begin on developing medicines that can disable this protein.
“Our work suggests that the cancer cells could be killed by these types of agents at levels that would have acceptable effects on the healthy tissues,” Dr Kelly said.
Although it will take several years for this type of treatment to become available, this discovery is an exciting step forward in cancer treatment development. The findings were published in the Genes & Development journal in January.