Cancer cells killed by salt injection

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A new technique has been developed by scientists that could result in cancer cells self-destructing after a salt injection.

University of Southampton researchers form part of an international team that has created a molecule which can cause the death of cancer cells by placing chloride and sodium ions into the cells.

Synthetic ion transporters could be a road to new anti-cancer drugs and also benefit patients with cystic fibrosis.

The co-author of the study, Professor Philip Gale, from the University of Southampton, said that their research has shown how chloride transporters can be used with sodium channels in the membranes of cells to cause an inflow of salt into a cell which could kill the cell.

Human body cells work diligently to keep a stable ion concentration within their cell membranes. Disruption to this balance can cause the cells to go through a process called apoptosis, which is known as programmed cell death. It is a method used by the body to get rid of dangerous or damaged cells.

A method of destroying cancer cells is to initiate this self-destruction by adjusting the cell ion balance.

Unfortunately, the cell changes the methods it uses for the transportation of ions when it becomes cancerous and this blocks apoptosis. The researchers have beaten this by the development of a synthetic method of transporting ions, however, this method also kills healthy cells. This problem has to be overcome before the method can be used to treat cancer.

Professor Jonathan Sessler, based at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas, said they have managed to close this gap by indicating that this method of chloride influx into the cell by using a synthetic transporter does actually trigger apoptosis.

He said this is extremely exciting as it indicates a new approach to potential anti-cancer drug development.

Image Credit: Phil and Pam

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