BBC News Updated every minute of every day

Page last updated at 02:09 GMT, Monday, 5 January 2009

Cancer cells 'cheat suicide call'

Skin cancer cells dividing
Cancer cells continue to divide uncontrollably

Cancer cells cheat death by reversing a process which causes normal cells to commit suicide at the end of their natural life, scientists have shown.

They showed cancer cells were able to recover even after exposure to a chemical cocktail which triggers suicide in normal cells.

The ability may help cancer cells to block the effect of chemotherapy drugs.

The study, by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, appears in the British Journal of Cancer.

This eye-opening discovery has created an entire map of new routes to explore in the search for new therapy targets
Dr Lesley Walker
Cancer Research UK
Programmed cell suicide - or apoptosis - plays a key role in keeping the body healthy, by ridding it of damaged or defective cells.

If these cells are not destroyed, then they can may continue to divide, developing into a tumour.

The researchers treated human cervical, skin, liver and breast cancer cells each with three different chemicals - jasplakinolide, staurosporine and ethanol - which triggers apoptosis in normal cells.

They wanted to see if cancer cells could survive once they have passed the point of no return for normal cell death.

The researchers found the cancer cells recovered once the chemical cocktail had been removed - even after the cells had passed normal critical checkpoints.

Changing shape

When the chemicals were removed, the cancer cells regained their shape, function and continued to divide.

They only lost the ability to recover once the nucleus at the very heart of the cell containing key genetic material had started to disintegrate - an event right at the end of the normal cell suicide process.

Researcher Professor Ming-Chiu Fung said the study suggested that cancer cells could use this ability to survive assault by chemotherapy drugs.

He said the discovery could potentially help the development of new, more effective anti-cancer drugs.

Dr Lesley Walker, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "This eye-opening discovery has created an entire map of new routes to explore in the search for new therapy targets.

"It is an intriguing advance and one that we hope will play a useful part in our efforts to beat cancer."

Print Sponsor

Shape shift rules cancer spread
31 Oct 08 |  Health

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

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific