Australian researchers have found that nutlins, a new class of anti-cancer drugs, make cancer cells self-destruct. The researchers say that this finding provides relevant information to develop improved strategies in treating cancer, confirming that nutlins are the new promising anti-cancer treatment.

Researchers have known that nutlins activate the gene that suppresses cancer development, called P53. The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, demonstrates that this process programs cell death or apoptosis and stops cancer growth without doing some damages that chemotherapy inflicts on cancer patients.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

“Our findings will help identify which patients are most likely to benefit from nutlins and which types of cancers are most likely to respond to nutlins as a treatment,” says Brandon Aubrey, a Ph.D. student at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and a clinical haematologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. “Understanding in detail how the drugs work will help in the design of better clinical trials and bring the world closer to more precise and personalised medical treatments for cancer.”

Study researcher Andreas Strasser, a joint division head in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, notes that other studies have stated that P53 played an important role in preventing cancer development, acting like a guardian of healthy cells. It is activated once cancerous changes in the cell have been identified and will try to repair damaged cell or force the cell to die if repairs are impossible.

“Without the ‘help’ of P53, a damaged cell can be allowed to multiply, leading to cancer development. P53 lies dormant in many types of cancer – that do not have mutations in P53 – and the nutlins work through re-awakening its activity,” Stasser notes.”By understanding how nutlins are killing cancer cells, we can begin to formulate their best possible use, including choosing the best partner drugs to combine the nutlins with,” Professor Strasser said.