Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 01:04 GMT


Cancer cell 'suicide' breakthrough

Scientists are unravelling the mysteries of cancer

Cancer specialists claim they have taken a significant step towards understanding why some cancers do not respond to drug treatment.

A team from the Cancer Research Campaign based at Manchester University is studying what prompts some cells to die and others to survive.

They hope their research will provide information needed to find new ways to kill cancer cells.

In normal circumstances, a healthy cell will die when it reaches the end of its natural life span or when it knows it is no longer needed.

Doctors on attack

Cells that are damaged will also "self destruct" as a safety mechanism so their faults are not replicated in future generations.

However, cancer cells do not die in the usual way, and go on reproducing themselves uncontrollably.

Most conventional treatments aim to force cancer cells to commit suicide by inflicting further damage on them.

However, some cancer cells can resist this bombardment.

The Manchester team is trying to identify how the cancer cells do this so doctors can attack their defence mechanisms.

Suicide molecule

The research has focused on a protein molecule called Bak that receives signals from the parts of the cell that assess and report damage caused by drugs, and then makes the cell self-destruct.

The researchers have discovered that Bak is normally held in check by another molecule.

To become active, it must separate from this "minder" and change shape.

Jump start

Once it changes shape it can receive the signals that the cell is damaged and commit it to die.

Scientists believe this does not happen in cancer cells.

Professor John Hickman, a member of the Manchester team, said: "The next question we hope to answer is why Bak does not get going in a cancer cell.

"If we can find out why it doesn't, then in theory we could find a way to jump-start it and force the cancer cell to die."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

01 Feb 99 | Health
Skin cancer gene breakthrough

29 Jan 99 | Health
Cancer vaccine prevents relapse

08 Jan 99 | Health
Cancer gene breakthrough

06 Jan 99 | Health
Scientists crack cancer secret

05 Jan 99 | Health
Hopes for gentler cancer treatment

07 Nov 98 | Health
Scientists identify cancer killer cells

12 Jun 98 | Latest News
Cancer busting broccoli

11 Jun 98 | Health
Cancer diagnosis while-you-wait

Internet Links

Cancer Research Campaign

Cancer Web

Cancer Bacup

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99