DALLAS, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. cancer researchers say they've discovered a molecule that cells normally use to fight viruses is also involved in keeping cancer cells alive.
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers say the anti-viral molecule, TBK-1, was found to be essential for cancer cells to live, so blocking it might point to a treatment for fighting cancer.
"We got the surprise that this mechanism is involved in cancer cell survival, even though it's normally involved in immune response," said Michael White, associate professor of cell biology. "We found something a little bit different -- an Achilles' heel of cancer cells that's apparently broadly conserved among many types of solid tumors."
The scientists found TBK-1 is turned off in healthy cells unless the immune response is stimulated but is always active in the cancerous cells they studied. When they blocked the function of TBK-1 in both cancerous and healthy cells, cancer cells died while healthy cells survived.
"This is making us think there are many other surprises awaiting discovery regarding biological systems that are inappropriately subverted during development of cancer," White said.
The discovery appears in the current issue of the journal Cell.