Newly Synthesized Fungal Compound Can Turn Apoptosis Back On in Aggressive Cancer Cells, Particularly in Colorectal Cancer

Cancers cells often use a special technique to propagate; they disable their "programmed death" program through mutation, "forget" to die when their lifetime is over, and continue to grow instead. A research team from the Tokyo University of Science (TUS) has developed a method through which a fungal compound capable of reactivating the self-destruct program in certain cancer cells can be artificially produced in marketable quantities, providing a potential cancer therapeutic strategy. All human body cells have a certain lifespan, during which they perform their essential duties. At the end of this lifespan, they reach senescence and, no longer able to perform those duties, die. This suicidal death is programmed into their genes through a process called apoptosis, causing them to self-destruct in order to make way for fresh, young, and healthy cells to replace them. Mutations in a special gene called p53 can sometimes interfere with this process of apoptosis. Caused by aging, ultraviolet light, and/or various mutagenic compounds, these mutations can disable apoptosis, resulting in "zombie" cells that do not die and continue to multiply, spreading the disabling mutations, and replacing healthy working cells with undying, rapidly growing tumors. This is the disease that we call cancer, and it takes many forms depending on which body cells develop the mutations. Previously, scientists identified an anti-cancer compound called FE399 in a species of filamentous fungus called Ascochyta, which is often found afflicting common food crops such as cereals. The compound is a a bicyclic depsipeptide, and it was shown to induce apoptosis in cancerous human cells, particularly those of colorectal cancer, while they are still in vitro, demonstrating its worth as a possible anti-cancer chemical.
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