Michael Dyer, PhD

Stressing cancer out

Even cancer cells can feel stress. In fact, it can kill them. According to new research led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, drugs that enhance a process called oxidative stress may offer a new way to combat an aggressive soft tissue tumor called rhabdomyosarcoma.

Clues hidden deep within the DNA of tumor genomes suggested that rhabdomyosarcoma cells may experience high levels of oxidative stress. To exploit this potential weakness, the researchers used drugs to boost the levels of oxidative stress still higher. The tumor cells died.

“This suggests that altering the ability of tumor cells to handle that stress—or increasing the stress just a bit—is enough to push the cell over the edge, and it dies,” said St. Jude researcher Michael Dyer, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “This gives us novel and exciting new therapeutic options to pursue.”

The research also revealed that two key types of childhood rhabdomyosarcoma have different underlying genetic causes and provided insights into why tumors sometimes come back after treatment. The findings, published in Cancer Cell, are the latest emerging from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project.

December 9, 2013

Read the news release