Understanding how radiotherapy kills cells

Valérie Devillaine
Thanks to significant funding, researchers from Institut Curie and the CEA (French atomic energy agency) will pool their efforts and skills to better understand how ionizing radiation affects cells.

Ferroptosis is a recently-discovered cell death mechanism: the cell dies due to oxidation of the lipids in its membrane. We also know that ionizing rays have a similar effect on the lipids in cell membranes. This is why we use them in radiotherapy to destroy cancerous cells. But does the toxicity of the rays stem from this precise ferroptosis mechanism?

Thanks to funding from a PIC3i, and in collaboration with Michel Toledano and his colleagues from the CEA, the team of Meng-Er Huang, a physician-researcher at Institut Curie, is going to try and find out the answer. Scientists will also attempt to find out more about the enzymes and other molecules involved in ferroptosis, in order to create the right conditions for destroying cancerous cells more efficiently and selectively using ionizing radiation. They will also test the role of a gas, namely hydrogen sulfur, or H2S. This gas is known to be toxic when inhaled in large doses, but it is also produced naturally in our cells where it plays the role of regulator of a number of physiological phenomena. It could have a protective effect against what we call oxidative stress, thus against the effects of ionizing radiation. Researchers want to check this, and if appropriate understand the underlying mechanisms.

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