Targeting a protein that helps tumours withstand chemotherapy could make cancer treatments more effective and less likely to cause side effects, new research suggests.
British scientists have identified a molecule called Bcl-xl that blocks the self-destruct process which normally kills cells treated with chemotherapy drugs.
Drugs that suppress the molecule are already available and tests showed that combining them with anti-cancer agents called taxanes proved far more effective than chemotherapy alone.
Study leader Professor Stephen Taylor said: "This research shows us there's potential to boost the cancer-fighting power of chemotherapy.
"This new combination could 'soften-up' cancer cells, making it easier for chemotherapy to deliver the final blow and destroy the tumour. The good news is that drugs targeting Bcl-xL are already out there and being tested in clinical trials.
"Using this combination of drugs could improve treatment for patients receiving taxanes and lower their chemotherapy dose, which would also help to reduce side-effects."
A major problem with chemotherapy drugs is the widespread damage they cause to healthy cells, leading to serious side effects, including nausea, hair loss, and weakened immune systems.
Dr Emma Smith, of Cancer Research UK, said: If the results are confirmed in clinical trials, it has the potential to improve treatment for thousands of cancer patients."