The research team suggests that the newly discovered 'trigger point' called BAX can help design new drugs that would force malignant cancer cells to commit suicide.
By directly activated this trigger, the researchers were able to kill laboratory cells by setting off their self-destruct mechanism.
The research team led by Dr Loren Walensky, PhD, pediatric oncologist and chemical biologist at Dana-Farber and Children's Hospital Boston was able to activate this switch by creating a peptide that fit into the trigger mechanism.
The activated BAX proteins congregated inside the cell's power plants, the mitochondria and caused cell death.
"We identified a switch that turns BAX on, and we believe this discovery can be used to develop drugs that turn on or turn off cell death in human disease by targeting BAX," Nature quoted Walensky, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, as saying.
"Because BAX lies at the crossroads of the cell's decision to live or die, drugs that directly activate BAX could kill diseased cells like in cancer and BAX-blocking drugs could potentially prevent unwanted cell death, such as in heart attack, stroke, and neurodegeneration," Walensky added.
The report appears in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Nature.