Metastasizing cancer cells could programmed to kill themselves using two proteins that can attach themselves to white blood cells, according to researchers from Cornell University.
Researchers injected human and mice blood samples with two proteins; E-selectin (an adhesive) and TRAIL, short for Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand. When the two joined together they were able to stick to white blood cells, and can make a cancer cell kill itself on contact.
While experimenting with saline they found that the proteins had a 60 percent success rate in killing cancer cells. But once the proteins were added to flowing blood, the success rate jumped to nearly 100 percent.
“About 90 percent of cancer deaths are related to metastases, but now we’ve found a way to dispatch an army of killer white blood cells that cause apoptosis -- the cancer cell’s own death -- obliterating them from the bloodstream," said Michael King, Cornell professor of biomedical engineering.
Metastasis is the spread of a cancer cells to other parts of the body. While surgery and radiation are effective against tumors, it is difficult to detect cancerous cells flowing throughout the bloodstream, making it difficult to treat.