How Do Cancer Drugs Block Pathways?

1

by Richard Saltus   

Cells are like young children – they need a lot of guidance on how to behave. Your body’s cells are constantly getting that help – in the form of hormones, growth factors, and other chemicals telling them when to rest, grow, duplicate their DNA, divide, or even self-destruct.

These commands are relayed from the cell’s surface to its nucleus by molecular pathways, also called signaling pathways, which are a series of interacting proteins that relay cellular messages, much as cell phone towers relay phone calls. When the commands reach the cell nucleus, they activate or turn off genes to determine how the cell responds.

Cancer often develops because of an error or mutation in a signaling pathway. For instance, an abnormal pathway may send growth signals to the cell’s nucleus even when no growth orders from the environment are being received at the cell’s surface. Here the altered pathway acts like a stuck “on” switch, so the cells divide uncontrollably, causing a tumor.

A Signaling Pathway

This simplified illustration shows just two of thousands of pathways in a cell. A single mutated protein in a pathway can cause uncontrolled growth and cause cancer. “Targeted” cancer drugs are designed to block abnormal pathways.

One of researchers’ biggest success stories has been identifying abnormal signaling pathways that have been hijacked by cancer cells to help them grow, spread, and become resistant to drugs. These discoveries have opened a new approach to cancer treatment that uses “targeted” drugs to disable one or more faulty proteins in the abnormal pathway. (The drugs are very selective because they are less likely to affect normal pathways in healthy cells.)

By blocking an overactive pathway, the drugs can slow a cancer’s growth and order malignant cells to self-destruct. Unfortunately, cancer cells can “learn” to activate other pathways, so that the original target drug is no longer effective by itself. Scientists then try to fight back by using combinations of drugs that attack multiple broken pathways.

Comments Sort By Newest

One thought on “How Do Cancer Drugs Block Pathways?

  1. Cancer is considered to be a dangerous disease. It is good to hear that cancer drugs can slow growth. Thanks for the information regarding this fatal disease and the way cancer cells progress.

  2. Cancer is considered to be a dangerous disease. It is good to hear that cancer drugs can slow growth. Thanks for the information regarding this fatal disease and the way cancer cells progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Blue Captcha Image
Refresh

*

Latest Tweets

Dana-Farber @danafarber
Voices #Podcast – Mastectomy, or Not — Breast Cancer Surgery Decisions: https://t.co/JAlnQ5GQjo #bcsm https://t.co/5eCW8MOIS3
Dana-Farber @danafarber
@PCFnews Announces 2 Dana-Farber New Young Investigator Awards! https://t.co/C7UBMp4OpP
Dana-Farber @danafarber
We’re excited to be part of the @WhiteHouseCancer Summit 6/29 & brainstorm how Boston #CanServe. https://t.co/iGIKNWYSfb

Make An Appointment

For adults: 877-442-3324

Quick access: Appointments as soon as the next day for new adult patients

For children: 888-733-4662

Republish our posts on your blog

Interested in sharing one of our stories on your blog? Feel free to republish this content! We just ask that you credit Dana-Farber, link to the original article, and refrain from making edits that change the original context. Questions? Email the editors at insight_blog@dfci.harvard.edu.

All content in these blogs is provided by independent writers and does not represent the opinions or advice of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute or its partners.