Dysregulation of Death Pathways in Cancer
The cells of the body are constructed so that if they become sufficiently damaged or abnormal, programmed cell death, or apoptosis, rapidly eliminates them before they can cause any harm. Cancer cells, which bear many abnormalities, apparently have found ways to escape this death sentence. One way that cancer cells escape death is via the overexpression of antideath proteins in the BCL-2 family. We are investigating how these antideath proteins might be selectively targeted in cancer cells. Using a combination of mouse models, protein biochemistry, and mitochondrial and cellular studies, we have determined conditions under which cancer and normal cells are susceptible to inhibition of BCL-2 family function. We are collaborating with biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms to bring small-molecule BCL-2 antagonists to clinical trial here at Dana-Farber. Most likely, the novel strategy of BCL-2 antagonism will first be tested in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, small-cell lung cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If these trials are successful, the strategy of BCL-2 antagonism may find wide application in other human cancers.We also investigate more fundamental questions about how interactions among BCL-2 family proteins govern death and survival in normal and cancer cells. We explore how these proteins participate in a wide range of death signals, growth factor withdrawal, and chemotherapy.