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Zombie Cancer Cells Return from the Dead

cancer cell

Zombies, they are the stuff of movies. But an interesting new study by the University of Colorado Cancer Center shows that sometimes reality mirrors fantasy. The study shows that cancer cells will partially eat themselves in times of distress just to come back to life and divide later on.

Autophagy [from the Greek “to eat oneself”] is a process in which proteins, or other surplus materials in the cell that are not explicitly needed for cellular function are cannibalized in times of stress. What was surprising, in this study we see this process used as a method to survive chemotherapy.

“What we showed is that if this mechanism doesn’t work right, for example if autophagy is too high or if the target regulated by autophagy isn’t around, cancer cells may be able to rescue themselves from death caused by chemotherapies,” says Andrew Thorburn, PhD, deputy director of the CU Cancer Center.

To understand what is going on in simple terms, cell death is measured by the release of something called MOMP a fancy science name for a type of proteins in the cell being broken down for energy elsewhere.

The cancer cells ‘special’ trick is that it increases autophagy in the cell to recapture that energy and survive the breakdown brought on by the chemotherapy. It was the first time this had been seen and offers a novel way to help improve cancer treatments.

“Autophagy is complex and as yet not fully understood,” Thorburn says. “But now that we see a molecular mechanism whereby cell-fate can be determined by autophagy, we hope to discover patient populations that could benefit from drugs that inhibit this action.”

Cross your fingers that the research pans out, with any luck cancer survival rates will increase thanks to this new finding.

Tired of the simplified version or interested in the full study? You can read it — here!

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