A team from The Institute of Cancer Research have discovered a way to make drug-resistant cancer cells sensitive to treatment – by targeting antenna-like structures.
The researchers identified changes in cilia in different types of cancer cells with resistance to various types of drugs. That suggests that targeting cilia could be a universal way to resensitise cancers to treatment.
Study leader Dr Barbara Tanos, ICR Fellow in Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “We believe that cilia could help cancer cells become resistant to a wide range of drugs – and therefore that targeting them could be a universal way of stripping cancers of their defences.”
The team blocked the growth of cilia in drug-resistant lung cancer and sarcoma cells, and found that their sensitivity to treatment had been restored. Exposure to drugs killed between 35 and 60 per cent of formerly resistant cancer cells – nearly doubling the effectiveness of cancer drugs.
Lengthening cilia had the opposite effect, causing cells that previously had responded to treatment to develop resistance. Cancer cells can evolve in many different ways to become resistant to treatment – and the researchers think the role of cilia in drug resistance is largely linked to important cell signalling molecules they contain.
Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Combating drug resistance is one of the most important challenges in cancer research today. We urgently need a better understanding of the underlying biology that enables cancer cells to evolve and evade treatment.
“This new study could open the door to new approaches for attacking cancers, which might block their escape routes from existing treatments.”