Research on the development of a new therapeutic agent for the treatment of particularly aggressive ovarian cancer has produced some very promising initial findings. In laboratory tests, scientists have succeeded in reducing the resistance of the tumour cells to a natural resistance mechanism with the help of a monoclonal antibody. The results of this project, which was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), have just been published. The project also succeeded in establishing a hitherto unknown connection between so-called “natural killer cells” and the regulated death of cancer cells.
When it comes to cancer cells, suicide has its positive side - at least from the perspective of the human body. A mechanism found in the bodies of higher organisms, known as “regulated cell death” or apoptosis, actually eliminates potentially harmful cells. The human body also has a protective mechanism of this kind that acts against ovarian cancer cells. The mechanism is initiated by the messenger substance TRAIL (Tumour Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis Inducing Ligand) which binds to receptors on tumour cells and triggers a suicide program. The fact that ovarian tumours emerge despite this - making ovarian cancer the most fatal form of the diseases affecting the female sexual and reproductive organs - is due to resistance to TRAIL: some tumour cells simply fail to react to the suicide signal. A group of scientists working with Professor Michael Krainer, Director of the Molecular Genetics Working Group, Department of Oncology, University Clinic for Internal Medicine I, Vienna General Hospital, has been researching ways of overcoming this resistance.
Hot on the TRAIL
Invaluable assistance in this task was provided by a monoclonal antibody, a special protein that identifies cell structures with a high degree of specificity. The antibody in question, which is known as AD5-10, binds specifically to the receptors that usually receive and transmit the TRAIL signal.