Protein Bcl-2, infamous in medicine as a cancer cell bodyguard, has now been successfully turned by American researchers into an effective cancer cell assassin.
Researchers at Oregon State University and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, say that they that they have developed a peptide that converts the Bcl-2 protein from a cancer cell's friend to a foe.
"Now we can force this protein to backstab the cancer cell where it resides," said Siva Kolluri, an assistant professor of cancer biology in the environmental and molecular toxicology department at OSU, and the lead author of the study published in the journal Cancer Cell.
The researcher described the peptide NuBCP-9, which his key to the conversion, as a string of nine amino acids that bind to Bcl-2 and attack the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells.
They revealed that they derived the peptide from Nur77, a nuclear receptor that can cause cells to die.
During the study, the researchers injected the peptide and its mirror-image molecule into mice, and found the cancer cells dying and the tumors shrinking.
They also found that a structurally mirrored-image stable peptide worked as well as the original peptide.
Kolluri is of the opinion that the new findings may pave the way for cancer-fighting drugs that target Bcl-2.
He revealed that Bcl-2 is an attractive drug target because its levels are elevated in a majority of human cancers, and it is responsible for cancer cells' resistance to many chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation.
Michael Melner, a scientific program director at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, welcomed the new findings.
He said that one of the next steps for the research team would be to determine what types of cancer and what stages of the disease this deadly Bcl-2 converter would combat.