Dr. Liao leads paper focused on best cell-death mode for treating cancer

One of The Hormel Institute’s section leaders has research published this month in a new, major scientific journal, advocating for chemotherapy to focus more on a lesser-used mode of cell death when treating cancer.
Dr. Joshua Liao, leader of the “Translational Cancer Research” section at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, led a team of scientists that produced a paper of their research perspectives now published in Oncoscience journal. The article aims to clear misconceptions in the science and medical communities in regards to the cell-death mode preferred for chemotherapy and that, despite many names for cell death, there are only three, genuine cell-death modes: necrosis, apoptosis, and stress-induced cell death. Cell death is key to cancer formation and progression and, thus, overarches cancer research, especially in therapy studies.
In the paper, Liao contends that there is a misconception that the best chemotherapeutic strategy is to direct cancer cells into a cell-death mode known as stress-induced apoptosis-like cell death (SIaLCD). Apoptosis is a programmed form of cell death that removes redundant but healthy cells. Mammary gland cells, for example, no longer are useful after a baby weans, leading those cells to die of apoptosis. But targeting apoptosis for cancer therapy – killing cancer cells via SIaLCD – will be less effective, according to the journal article.
“That is because cancer resembles an evolutionarily lower-level organism that has a weaker apoptosis potential and poorer DNA repair mechanisms,” Liao said.
Instead, necrosis of cancer cells – a non-programmed death mode of cells and living tissue in a less orderly form than apoptosis – should be the focus because the process releases cellular debris and components to stimulate immune function, which counteracts therapy induced immune suppression, Liao said. Necrosis is better than SIaLCD for developing chemotherapy drugs, he added.
Cell death is a focus of cancer research projects, especially therapy studies aimed at causing the specific death of cancer cells. Many studies are conducted using cancer tissues that resemble parasites in the host patients, creating a system that further complicates the situation as it involves immune clearance of the alien cancer cells by the host.
“Considering that most targeted therapies currently used clinically improve survival only modestly but with exorbitant costs,” Liao said, “general therapies with less target specificity should be used, such as hyperthermia therapy, probably in combination with targeted therapy.”
Liao also wrote in the article that all chemotherapy treatments probably should be used at maximal doses under intensive care to kill as many cancer cells as possible in the least amount of time. This would leave fewer remaining cells behind and not enough time for those cells to accumulate mutations and select more refractory clones to repopulate to more intractable tumors.

The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota
Started in 1942 by Jay C. Hormel, The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota is comprised of a group of highly successful medical scientists who are focused on determining the basic molecular mechanisms of cancer development to develop new anti-cancer agents. This summer, The Hormel Institute is undergoing a major expansion to double in size, adding 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and better space for its International Center of Research Technology. About 120 new faculty and staff jobs will be added over the coming years, growing The Hormel Institute to about 250 employees overall.