MIT biologists have designed a new peptide that can disrupt a key protein that many types of cancers, including some forms of lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer, need to survive.
The new peptide targets a protein called Mcl-1, which helps cancer cells avoid the cellular suicide that is usually induced by DNA damage. By blocking Mcl-1, the peptide can force cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death.
“Some cancer cells are very dependent on Mcl-1, which is the last line of defense keeping the cell from dying. It’s a very attractive target,” says Amy Keating, an MIT professor of biology and one of the senior authors of the study.
Peptides, or small protein fragments, are often too unstable to use as drugs, but in this study, the researchers also developed a way to stabilize the molecules and help them get into target cells.
Loren Walensky, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is also a senior author of the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Jan. 15. Researchers in the lab of Anthony Letai, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber, were also involved in the study, and the paper’s lead author is MIT postdoc Raheleh Rezaei Araghi.