Cancer cells are a picture of conflict. Seemingly aware of the danger they themselves pose, these abnormal cells often try to commit suicide by activating destructive enzymes called caspases. But as if simultaneously compelled by a self-preservation instinct, tumor cells usually thwart this impulse using proteins that foil the caspases.
Now, a team of researchers has found compounds that inhibit a specific caspase inhibitor, thereby triggering the death of various tumor cells growing in laboratory dishes or in mice.
"It looks like cancers are poised to die if you take this roadblock away," says John C. Reed, president of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif., an independent biomedical research center.