Healthy cells stopped from dying

Healthy cells stopped from dying

Illuminate newsletter index page, December 2019
December 2019

(L-R) Dr Mark van Delft, Professor David Huang and Professor Guillaume Lessene led the study at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
(L-R) Dr Mark van Delft, Professor David Huang and
Professor Guillaume Lessene led the study.

A new compound has been shown to block the earliest stages of cell death, keeping cells alive and functioning in a perfectly healthy state.

The ability to swiftly intervene and prevent cell
death could be game-changing for medical emergencies and procedures, such as minimising cellular damage after heart attacks, or preserving organs for transplants.

The research was led by Institute scientists Professor David Huang, Professor Guillaume Lessene and Dr Mark van Delft.

Programmed cell death - or apoptosis - is tightly controlled by the Bcl-2 protein family. The new compound disables a member of the protein family called BAK, successfully halting the molecular cascade that normally triggers cell

Professor Lessene said the proof-of-concept drug intervened in apoptosis before irreversible damage to cells occurred.

“Never before have we seen such promising ability to intervene in the earliest stages of apoptosis before irreversible damage occurs,” Profesor Lessene said.

Promising for medical care

Professor Huang said the ability to stop unwanted apoptosis was invaluable for the future of medical care.

“Acute injury can cause cells to rapidly die, leading to the loss and weakening of tissues and muscles,” he said.

“Being able to prevent uncontrolled cell death could dramatically improve a patient’s recovery or chances of survival.

“Next steps include applying the knowledge to more advanced models of disease, such degenerative disorders marked by the loss of healthy tissue.”

National Drug Discovery Centre

The compound was developed through extensive medicinal chemistry following high throughput screening of more than 250,000 potential small drug molecules. The laboratories involved have formed the foundation of the Institute’s National Drug Discovery Centre.




Super Content: 
Animation still image

This two-part animation from WEHI.TV explains the type of programmed cell death called apoptosis, and how the anti-cancer drug venetoclax works by forcing susceptible cells into this process.

Researchers with a computer

Our researchers discovered how a protein defect in immune cells can trigger autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

Animation still of dying cell

Institute researchers have been recognised for their contributions to the field of cell death research.