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Exploiting Autophagy to Kill Cancer Cells

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

Scientists at Stanford have identified a compound that kills most kidney cancer cells without disturbing normal tissue. A new weapon against renal cell carcinoma would be welcome enough. But this research and other recent findings are pointing to how the emerging understanding of autophagy, a natural regulatory process in cells, may be useful in the design of new therapies in cancer and also, potentially, neurodegenerative and immunologic diseases.

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Cancer Metabolism Approach Uncovers Drug Target, Biomarker

Scientists at Agios Pharmaceuticals have shown that a mutated metabolic enzyme common to many brain cancers acts like an oncogene, reversing the previously held belief that it was not involved in cancer-causing activity. They also linked the mutation, IDH1, to a potential predictive biomarker for glioma patients. Their work helps validate a drug discovery apporach based on the study of proliferating cancer cell metabolism.

For Cancer Therapy, Radiation Protection and Delayed Tumor Growth from the Same Mechanism

A group at the National Cancer Institute has shown that blocking the activity of the glycoprotein thrombospondin-1 protects surrounding tissue from the effects of ionizing radiation while, at the same time, sensitizing tumor cells to the effects of the radiation blast. The work could lead to new adjunctive cancer therapies--especially in breast cancer, to ablate residual tumor cells following reconstructive surgery.

Teasing Out Mechanisms of Small-Molecule Kinase Inhibition

Even as kinases remain a popular target in oncology for industry, two recent papers show how much we have yet to learn about how to interfere with these molecules. These most recent laboratory studies help explain the confusing observation that the very act of inhibiting a kinase with a drug can also "prime" phosphorylation of that target, which in some cases can actually enhance tumor activity.

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