Cancer researchers have pinned down a molecule that can kick-start the body’s own tumour-destroying systems, triggering cell death in cancerous but not healthy tissue in mice.
The molecule, TIC10, activates the gene for a protein called TRAIL (tumour-necrosis-factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand), which has long been a target for cancer researchers looking for drugs that would avoid the debilitating effects of conventional therapies.
“TRAIL is a part of our immune system: all of us with functional immune systems use this molecule to keep tumours from forming or spreading, so boosting this will not be as toxic as chemotherapy,” says Wafik El-Deiry, an oncologist at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey and lead author of the study.
Experiments showed that TIC10 had potent effects against a variety of tumours, including breast, lymphatic, colon and lung cancer. It was especially effective at triggering cell suicide in glioblastoma, a kind of brain tumour that is notoriously difficult to treat2. Mice with glioblastomas that were treated with TIC10 in combination with bevacizumab — a drug used against diseases including brain tumours, and sold under the name Avastin — survived three times as long as untreated mice. Even mice treated with TIC-10 alone still had better survival rates (6% longer) than those treated with bevacizumab alone.