Curing Cancer:  Persuading Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide

By Shlomo   Maital     

p53 (p53 protein attaches to DNA) 

   There is a huge number of varieties of cancer.  Each one seems to need its own specific treatment and drug, if one exists.

   But – what if creative researchers found a way to disable or destroy ALL cancer cells, regardless of their type?  How great would that be!

    Today’s Global New York Times carries an article by Gina Kolata,   headlined “Drugs Aim to Make Several Types of Cancer Self-Destruct”.

   Here is the essence of it: 

   “Normal healthy cells have a mechanism that tells them to die if their DNA is too badly damaged to repair. Cancer cells have grotesquely damaged DNA, so ordinarily they would self-destruct. A protein known as p53 that Dr. Gary Gilliland of Merck calls the cell’s angel of death normally sets things in motion. But cancer cells disable p53, either directly, with a mutation, or indirectly, by attaching the p53 protein to another cellular protein that blocks it. The dream of cancer researchers has long been to reanimate p53 in cancer cells so they will die on their own.   …Roche, Merck and Sanofi persevered, testing thousands of molecules.   …At Sanofi, the stubborn scientist leading the way, Dr. Debussche, maintained an obsession with p53 for two decades. Finally, in 2009, his team, together with Shaomeng Wang at the University of Michigan and a biotech company, Ascenta Therapeutics, found a promising compound.  …The company tested the drug by pumping it each day into the stomachs of mice with sarcoma.  A week later, Cedric Barriere, the scientist conducting the experiment, went to his boss, Dr. Debussche, saying, “Laurent, I have a problem.” He confessed that he had treated some of the mice only once. And their tumors had vanished.  Dr. Debussche was stunned. “We have to reproduce it,” he said. They did. …. there are encouraging hints that the drugs might be working. In biopsies and scans, cancer cells appeared to be dying. Rigorous efficacy studies are next. If they are successful, they will be followed by clinical trials across cancer types.”

  In short, cancer cells disarm the DNA time bomb, p53, that makes damaged or dangerous cells self-destruct.  New compounds reactivate p53, thus (hopefully) killing any and every cancer cell.

   If you know those who have cancer, pass this on.  I realize clinical trials will take years – especially because they have to be done on a wide variety of types of cancer, which complicates matters a lot.  But there is hope.  And let’s also hope the FDA and its European equivalent ‘fast track’ these trials…in fact, super-fast-track them!       

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