Mitochondria could hold clue to killing cancer cells

Mitochondria help cells survive

The findings of a McGill University research team looking into how mitochondria are able to keep cells alive could help provide the solution to how to kill cancer cells.

McGill scientists Heidi McBride and John Bergeron, working with McGill professor Nahum Sonenberg have found the mechanism which allows mitochondria to prevent cells from dying even when cells have been deprived of nutrients.

Funding for the research was provided in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Terry Fox Research Institute, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

In earlier work years ago, Sonenberg discovered that mTOR also controls protein expression in all human cells. mTOR targets the selective synthesis of proteins destined for the mitochondria which are the structures in a cell that generate the energy needed for cells to grow and divide.

The research by McBride, Bergeron, and Sonenberg have now shown that mTOR also controls the expression of proteins that alter the structure and function of mitochondria. This allows mitochondria to protect cells from dying, according to a report by  Cynthia Lee, in the McGill news site.

mTOR is being studied in clinical trials for cancer treatments. However, while treatments have been able to stop the growth and division of cancer cells, they have been unable to kill the cancer cells.

This resent study shows that mitochondria help cells survive by blocking a point the apoptosis or the central point in a cell death pathway.

According to the researchers, this offers the hope that a combination of therapies could kill cancer cells by reversing the protection provided by mitochondria.


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