Researchers isolate key part of cells’ ‘death’ signals

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Scientists want to make cancer cells commit suicide

In the cover article of the September 2002 issue of the journal Cancer Cell, researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reported that peptide subunits of cell-signaling “BH3” proteins could out-maneuver opposing “anti-death” proteins and trigger the suicide process. Cell suicide or “apoptosis” prevents wayward cells from growing out of control and becoming cancerous. “Many cancer cells may stay alive due to the overexpression of anti-death proteins,” said Dana-Farber’s Anthony Letai, lead author of the paper and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “That we could specifically target a key death signal associated with cancer gives hope that the same can ultimately be done to cancer cells in people as well.” The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Claudia Adams Barr Society and the American Society of Hematology. Letai is a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar.