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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
Monday, February 12, 2007
MIT research IDs tumor defense mechanism
MIT scientists have identified a new defense mechanism that tumor cells use to survive chemotherapy, a discovery that could lead to drugs that make existing cancer drugs work better at lower doses.
Writing in the cover story of today's Cancer Cell, Dr. Michael B. Yaffe and his biomedical engineering colleagues explain that once tumors lose their ability to repair DNA that has been damaged by drugs or radiation, they turn to a signaling pathway involved in inflammation in order to survive.
"The exciting thing is we can now target this pathway," said Yaffe, who is also a surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and affiliated with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. "It won't make normal cells any more susceptible to chemo but it will make cancer cells much more sensitive."
The scientists tested their idea by turning off the inflammation pathway in mouse tumors. After they gave low doses of the common cancer drug cisplatin to the mice, their tumors melted away, Yaffe said.
A drug that works against a molecule important in inflammation called MK2 is already being tested. Originally conceived as a treatment for arthritis, it may be modified to thwart just the inflammatory pathway that cancer cells use to survive.
"Our results suggest it might have a second life in helping to treat cancer patients," Yaffe said. "It could mean standard chemotherapy would suddenly become much more effective."