It is designed to target a key protein in the development of cancer cells and may help combat leukemia, lymphomas, breast cancer and other types of cancer. Biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA) are working on a new peptide that can block a protein called Mcl-1, which helps cancer cells avoid cell suicide induced by DNA damage. By blocking Mcl-1, the peptide can therefore force cancer cells to undergo programmed death. We talk about this issue with Dr. Lorenza Rimassa, deputy head of the Medical Oncology Unit of the Humanitas Clinical Institute.
Breaking down the trench of cancer cells: a promising objective
Mcl-1 belongs to a family of five proteins that play a role in controlling programmed or apoptosis cell death and are found to be hyperactive in different types of cancer.
By forming what is called an “apoptotic blockade,” Mcl-1 allows cancer cells to survive and proliferate uncontrollably, becoming resistant to DNA-damaging chemotherapeutic drugs.
Many pharmaceutical companies have tried to develop drugs targeted against Mcl-1 but so far unsuccessfully. In the study conducted at MIT, researchers are working on a new way to create stable molecules that can enter target cancer cells.
The work of researchers
Scholars have created about 40 variants of their Mcl-1 blocking peptides. By testing all these elements, they identified a position in the peptide where the insertion of a “paper clip” not only improves the stability of the molecule and helps it to penetrate into the cells, but also makes it more closely related to Mcl-1.
Now the work must continue to answer many questions still open including the effectiveness of these peptides in combating specific types of cancer, activity in combination with other drugs rather than alone, and activity in different stages of the disease.
“The work of MIT researchers is extremely interesting – said Dr. Lorenza Rimassa, deputy head of the Medical Oncology unit at the Humanitas Clinical Institute. It should be stressed, however, that this is research in its early stages that will still need to be developed for a long time before conclusions can be drawn about the potential applicability of this strategy in clinical practice“.