Major Breakthrough in Cell Suicide by TCD scientists has implications for Cancer Treatment

Posted on: 03 September 2008

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have made an important breakthrough in how cells commit suicide, which has the potential of impacting on future cancer therapies. The Trinity research group, led by Smurfit Professor of Medical Genetics, Professor Seamus Martin, has just published its findings in the internationally renowned journal, Molecular Cell.

Professor Martin’s team has made an important breakthrough in understanding the role of the Bcl-2 gene family which are involved in developing resistance to cancer chemotherapy. The discovery highlights an unexpected role for the Bcl-2 gene family in regulating the process of mitochondrial division.  Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell and play an important role in the decision-making process leading to cell suicide (also known as apoptosis), a type of cell death that is often switched off in cancer.  Understanding how cells commit suicide potentially offers new avenues for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune conditions such as arthritis.

The Trinity research group’s findings, along with a previous study by the TCD research group  also  published in  Molecular Cell in 2006, provide evidence that the Bcl-2 family ‘double jobs’ to perform two independent roles within the cell.  These findings  separate these roles and opens up new avenues for investigations into the complex functions of members of the Bcl-2 family.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Martin stated: “This discovery is an important step forward in our understanding of how cell suicide is regulated and has implications for how we aim to therapeutically manipulate the cell death machinery in disease states such as cancer”. 

Professor Martin also added: “This research is a testament to the quality and international competitiveness of research currently being carried out in Ireland  that would not be possible were it not for the investments in research made by the Irish government in recent years through initiatives such as the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland.”

The research was funded primarily through a major award from Science Foundation Ireland. The work was carried out in the Molecular Cell Biology Laboratory at TCD’s Department of Genetics by the research team led by Professor Martin, including Trinity PhD students Clare Sheridan, Petrina Delivani and Sean Cullen.  The TCD research team is internationally recognised for its work on cell suicide or apoptosis.