Scientists discover how the body can destroy cancerous tumours itself – without the need for drugs
U.S. researchers have identified a a molecule, known as TIC10, which activates protein that helps fight diseaseThe protein, called TRAIL, helps immune system suppress tumour development Because protein is part of immune system, it is not toxic to the body like
chemotherapy or radiotherapy

By
Anna Hodgekiss

PUBLISHED:

15:42 GMT, 8 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

15:47 GMT, 8 February 2013

Scientists have made a key breakthrough in discovering how the body can destroy cancerous tumours itself.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have identified a molecule, known as TIC10, which activates a protein that helps fight the disease.

The protein, called TRAIL, suppresses tumour development
during immune surveillance, the immune system's process of patrolling
the body for cancer cells.

A key benefit of using TRAIL is that it uses the immune system, so it is not toxic to the body like chemotherapy or radiotherapy (pictured)

A key benefit of using TRAIL is that it uses the immune system, so it is not toxic to the body like chemotherapy or radiotherapy (pictured)

This process is lost during cancer
progression, which leads to uncontrolled growth and spread of tumours.

The key benefit of using TRAIL (tumour-necrosis-factor-related
apoptosis-inducing ligand) as a way to fight cancer is that it is already part of the immune system so it is not toxic to the body like chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Furthermore, the small size of TIC10 also makes it more effective than past discoveries because 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 tumours.

'We didn’t actually
anticipate that this molecule would be able to treat brain tumours – that was a pleasant surprise,' said lead researcher Wafik El-Deiry, an oncologist at
Pennsylvania State University.

Another positive is that TIC10 does not just activate the TRAIL gene in cancerous cells, but also in
healthy ones. This is known as the 'bystander effect' – i.e. 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.

The small size of TIC10 also means it can cross the blood-brain barrier, which many anti-cancer drugs can't do, making it effective at targeting brain cancer cells (pictured)

The small size of TIC10 also means it can cross the blood-brain barrier, which many anti-cancer drugs cannot do, making it effective at targeting brain cancer cells (pictured)

Although the study was limited to mice, Dr El-Deiry is confident that a similar approach would work in humans.

He added: 'I
was surprised and impressed that we were able to do this.

'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,' he added.

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.

The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.