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Can Cancer Cells Undergo Self Destruction?

Cancer cells are rogue cells with faulty genetic instructions. Owing to this reason, they are capable of producing proteins which help them remain latent from the clutches of the immune system and anti-cancer drugs.

Recently, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a protein on the surface of these malignant cells which can attract the immune system cells towards them leading to their self destruction. The results of their study were published in the December 2010 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Knowledge Gained from the Research:

The protein of the cancer cells discovered in the study which invited immune system cells is called calreticulin or CRT. There is another counterpart of this protein known to exist earlier, called CD47 which protects the cancer cells from self destruction and counteracts the functioning of CRT.

The experts from the same university were the first to report that anti CD47 drugs would be potent cancer therapies by proving their claim to be true on experimental mice. Couples of questions remained unanswered in the previous study like why the CD47 proteins in the normal cells were not the targets of anti CD47 drugs.

The presence of a protein like CRT forming the counter part CD47 was postulated in the prior study itself as both of them were known to play a vital role in causing apoptosis (technical name for programmed death of cells).

In fact the present research found that the joint expression of both these proteins in cancer cells makes them target to the anti CD47 drugs. Normal cells do not express CRT and CD47 proteins together and hence are not affected by these drugs.

Aggressive forms of cancers are found to make CRT protein in excess which raises the hope that they would respond more to these drugs too. Some questions which are arising from the present study is that why in first there should be a protein which means destruction to the cells and why worst cancers need to produce more of CRT proteins.

The researchers speculate that expression of crt protein on the cell’s surface might be a part of its regulatory system. When it is on the verge of destruction, this expression takes place which invites the immune system cells to engulf and destroy it.

In cancer cells excess of CRT cells production would require equal amount of CD47 protein been made too in order to survive from the cancer drugs. There is also a possibility where CRT protein might provide an unknown advantage to the cancer cells which is presently is subject of further research.

Conclusion: Insight on the working of these two proteins in the patients undergoing chemotherapy can prove vital in increasing the benefits of this most standard cancer therapy.

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