New research suggests that cancers can potentially be “softened-up” before being attacked with chemotherapy drugs.
A study, published in the Cancer Cell, revealed how tumors can become resilient to commonly used medications.
A team from the University of Manchester claims that drugs already in development may be able to block this resistance thus making chemotherapy more effective.
However, this theory still hasn’t been tested on humans.
What this team did was examine a class of drugs called taxanes, used in treatment of various cancers including breast and ovarian.
The research group actually tried to determine how taxanes work. By studying cancerous cells growing in the laboratory they were able to demonstrate how the class of drugs trigger cancer cells to kill themselves.
On the other hand, they simultaneously discovered a key difference between cancers that were vulnerable to the drugs and those which were inherently resistant, or developed resistance later.
The laboratory tests found high levels of one protein, known as Bcl-xL, in those cells that were resisting treatment. Luckily, drugs which can neutralise Bcl-xL’s effects are in development.
One of the researchers, Prof Stephen Taylor, reported for BBC News: “Potentially combining this with taxanes you could take resistant [cancers] and make them sensitive.
“These new inhibitors would essentially soften-up the cancer cells so when they are treated they are more likely to die.”
The team want to further test their approach on samples of a patient’s cancer as well as in animals studies.
However, one concern still persists and that’s whether making cancers more susceptible to chemotherapy would also make healthy tissue more vulnerable and increase the risks of side effects.
Dr Emma Smith, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “In cases where patients don’t benefit from taxane-based chemotherapy, doctors could add drugs that target Bcl-xL to overcome cancer’s defences.
“It’s still early days for this research but, if the results are confirmed in clinical trials, it has the potential to improve treatment for thousands of cancer patients.”