Cancer researchers and drug companies may have been too quick to ignore a promising line of inquiry that targets a specific cell protein, according to a research team led by a biomedical scientist in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside. Every cell in our body produces pro-death proteins and anti-death proteins, which interact with each other, negating each other's function. A healthy balance between them is a natural process. A damaged cell, for example, produces more pro-death proteins than anti-death proteins, resulting in a natural elimination of the diseased cell, a process also known as apoptosis. Pro- and anti-death proteins are therefore termed pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins, respectively. In cancer cells, genetic alterations result in an overproduction of anti-apoptotic proteins. As a result, such cancer cells keep surviving and become resistant to treatment (chemotherapy or radiation) instead of dying, resulting in uncontrolled proliferation. Anti-apoptotic proteins, therefore, have been the target for developing drugs that restore apoptosis in cancer cells. Bcl-2 is a member of a family of six anti-apoptotic proteins. It is the most studied of the six proteins, and the drug Venetoclax, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016, targets it. But what if cancer cells develop resistance to this drug, which targets only one anti-death protein? Based on studies using mouse proteins, academics and pharmaceutical companies have been focusing on the next anti-apoptotic protein in the line-up: Mcl-1.
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