Research NewsApoptosis

Caspase Work Points to Possible New Therapies

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Science  03 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5360, pp. 33
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5360.33

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Programmed cell death or apoptosis is a normal part of cells' lives, but sometimes cells refuse the order to die, resulting in cancer, or die when they shouldn't, causing neurodegenerative problems or contributing to the brain damage of stroke. Researchers now hope that what they are learning about the caspases, protein-cutting enzymes that play a key role in apoptosis, may help them correct these imbalances. They have found, for example, that tumor cells--but not normal adults cells--contain high levels of an apoptosis-blocking protein that may work by inhibiting the caspases. If researchers could learn to inactivate this protein, cancer cells might be made more susceptible to therapy; there are also indications that caspase inhibitors could prevent the nerve-cell death that occurs in some neurodegenerative conditions.