In the laboratory, 20-25 percent of breast cancer cells died when Dr. Schoenlein and colleagues gave antiestrogen continuously over time similar to how patients get it. More typically, the cells expressed increasing levels of macroautophagy and survived. "They don't grow, but they survive the therapy. They will grow if you take away the therapy." Adding a macroautophagy inhibitor promoted robust cell death.
"We believe targeting the autophagosome function will significantly improve the efficacy of hormonal treatment for estrogen-positive breast cancer," says the researcher. She recently received a three-year, $1.1 million National Cancer Institute grant to pursue that strategy.
She'll now look for ways to block macroautophagy in an animal model, including using chloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria. "We know patients can take it with few side effects," she says. If it works in animals, the drug, in combination with an antiestrogen, could move relatively quickly into human testing.
During autophagy, the internal pH for the recycling center of the reorganized cell gets acidic and chloroquine increases pH. "If you add this particular inhibitor of the recycling center, you alter the pH and block its ability to do what it is supposed to do," says Dr. Schoenlein.
A University of Pennsylvania team led by Dr. Craig Thompson reported in 2007 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation that chloroquine increased death of suicide-resistant lymphoma cells being treated with chemotherapy. Dr. Schoenlein will give chloroquine along with an antiestrogen and measure cell death.
"Most cancers probably use autophagy as a survival mechanism. You can either block the autophagosome with your therapy or you can make the cell eat itself to the point of no return and the cell self-destructs. You have to push it either way," she says. Although there are no known compounds in clinical use to induce self-destruction
|Contact: Toni Baker|
Medical College of Georgia