Cell killer enzyme could help cancer treatment

Updated: Mar 06, 2011, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: An enzyme that can push cells into committing "suicide" could pave way for improved cancer drugs.

The discovery could open the way to better anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs that target the enzyme "caspase 8," described as "the killer you can`t live without".

This enzyme plays a key role in apoptosis, a form of "cellular suicide" important for the development of all multi-cellular organisms, and in defence against viral infections, the journal Nature reports.

Surprisingly, "caspase 8" appears to have two functions: One that initiates apoptosis and a second that restrains an independent programmed death pathway, says study author Ed Mocarski, professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University.

In humans, a lack of "caspase 8" has been linked to immune disorders and skin diseases such as eczema, while too much "caspase 8" activity has been connected with diabetes, according to a statement from the university.

Besides, several experimental anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs aim to alter "caspase 8" levels in order to induce death in cancer cells or reduce inflammation.