Researchers at the University of Buffalo have developed an imaging technique capable of monitoring the process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. The technique allows scientists to view the changes occurring in the cell on a molecular level during apoptosis. The information could allow researchers to observe cellular changes as a patient undergoes cancer treatment, and could aid in the development of new molecular therapeutics for diseases such as cancer.
Apoptosis is a process in which cells self-destruct when they are no longer useful. Programmed cell death helps protect the body, but disease may occur if cells die prematurely or if abnormal cells refuse to self-destruct. A 2003 paper published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics identifies defective apoptosis as a major factor in the development and progression of cancer. Defective apoptosis is also believed to play a role in Parkinson’s disease, cardiac ischemia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Although the University of Buffalo team is the most recent to make headlines, it is not the only team working to better understand apoptosis: GliaGen is developing novel technologies to measure cell stress and cell death, while Amnis Corporation offers the ImageStreamx system for the high-speed imaging and analysis of apoptotic cells.
Ideally, an apoptosis-based therapy would induce self-destruction in diseased cells while sparing healthy cells. Companies developing cancer therapies centered on apoptosis include Ascenta Therapeutics, Senesco Technologies, Aegera Therapeutics, and EntreMed. Amarantus Therapeutics is developing a drug candidate for a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease and organ transplantation.