Research has indicated that the discovery that a single protein called FADD controls multiple cell death pathways could lead to better, more targeted autoimmune disease and cancer drugs.
Jianke Zhang at Thomas Jefferson University and researchers show this protein regulates not one but two types of cell deaths pivotal for embryo and disease development.
"This is the one gene that regulates these two processes in cells, so now we can find targeted drugs to control the cell death process," said Zhang.
The study shows that with the absence or variation in expression of this one protein, an embryo may not develop properly or a person may develop disease later in life.
Researchers found that mice that did not express FADD contained raised levels of RIP1, Receptor-Interacting Protein 1, an important protein that mediates necrosis and the apoptotic processes, and their embryonic development failed due to massive necrosis.
"When the FADD-mediated death process is deregulated, we will produce white bloods cells that will attack our own tissue, which is the cause of auto-immune diseases, such as arthritis and lupus," said Zhang.
"And without the necessary cell deaths that are required for tumor surveillance, humans could develop cancer."
"The killing of these tumor cells is not efficient, and this paper actually figured out why," concluded Zhang.
"We now know that the FADD protein, while required for apoptotic death, is inhibiting necrotic death in tumor cells."
The study appears in Nature.