Drugs Bypass Sleeping Cancer Cells

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GISTtumorcells2New research from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute shows it is possible to therapeutically target cancer cells to keep them from entering quiescence or a state of “cell sleep”. Drugs created to help treat cancer normally do not destroy quiescent cells. This allows these once quiescent cancer cells to cause tumor progression. By inhibiting a key regulator of quiescence, a larger percentage of cancer cells can be killed.

The researchers made the discovery while studying gastrointestinal stromal tumors, rare tumors that grow on the walls of the GI tract. These tumors are caused by a single gene mutation, allowing them to be treated with targeted therapy. The problem is that the tumors quickly develop resistance to treatment most likely due to quiescence.

Unlike traditional chemotherapy, which kills all rapidly dividing cells, targeted therapy stops cancer by interfering with specific molecules required for tumor growth. A key regulator of the cancer cell sleep process is a protein complex called DREAM. If the DREAM complex is disrupted, there is a significant increase in cancer cell death using targeted therapy. Therefore, further investigation of the DREAM complex is important as a novel drug target.

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