UK scientists discover new way to kill cancer cells

In collaboration with the Press Association

A study co-led by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists has uncovered a new way of killing cancer cells - by forcing their internal 'rubbish disposal' systems to go into overdrive, destroying the entire cell.

Cells have specialised systems which enable them to get rid of unwanted proteins or bacteria.

Researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Southampton have now discovered that certain 'next generation' antibody drugs work by forcing this system to go into overdrive in cancer cells, causing the cells to die.

They showed that the antibodies bind to the cell, causing acid-containing sacs called 'lysosomes' to swell and burst, releasing their toxic contents and killing the cell.

The team hopes to exploit this discovery - which is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation - to develop new anti-cancer treatments for leukaemia and lymphoma blood cancers.

Cancer Research UK's Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Professor Tim Illidge, who co-authored the paper, noted that a number of antibody treatments for cancer have been developed over the past decade.

"Our research focused on several antibodies that bind to a molecule found on many leukaemia and lymphoma cells called CD20," he revealed.

"Until now scientists did not understand exactly how these antibodies work as treatments for these blood cancers, but our research not only identifies how they kill the cancer cells but also provides exciting insights into how other antibodies that use this mechanism might be developed."

Dr Mark Cragg, co-lead researcher at the University of Southampton, added: "Our findings are significant and open up the possibility of applying the knowledge of how antibodies can be developed to trigger cell death and may enable us to design treatments for other cancers."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "Although it's at an early stage, this research provides valuable clues as to how monoclonal antibodies kill cancer cells and could lead to more effective treatments for cancer in the future."


Ivanov, A., Beers, S., Walshe, C., Honeychurch, J., Alduaij, W., Cox, K., Potter, K., Murray, S., Chan, C., Klymenko, T., Erenpreisa, J., Glennie, M., Illidge, T., & Cragg, M. (2009). Monoclonal antibodies directed to CD20 and HLA-DR can elicit homotypic adhesion followed by lysosome-mediated cell death in human lymphoma and leukemia cells Journal of Clinical Investigation DOI: 10.1172/JCI37884