Cell death insights offer new therapeutic opportunities

Brent R. Stockwell, Ph.D.
2 min readAug 7, 2023

Discoveries about how cells regulate their demise are creating exciting opportunities to treat degenerative diseases and many cancers.

Today, my colleague Kamyar Hadian and I published a review in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery describing the therapeutic potential of controlling cell death.

Image of a person, their organs, and cells
People are made up of organs, tissues, and cells (Image created by Nicoletta Barolini)

Historically, researchers thought cell death was an inevitable consequence of wear and tear, similar to how your car breaks down over time. In the 1950s, however, Richard Lockshin suggested that cell death might be programmed to happen at specific times. In the 70s, Kerr, Wyllie, and Currie identified two different ways that cells can die, suggesting cell death wasn’t always the same. In the 90s, Bob Horvitz and colleagues showed that specific genes control cell death.

In the last few years, numerous research teams around the world found a growing number of distinct cell death mechanisms.

In our new review, Kamyar and I explain the details of how each of these new types of cell death is controlled, and how they can be targeted therapeutically. We think this opens up vast new opportunities for creating medicines that block and induce these different types of cell death.

We hope our review article will inspire research teams around the world to explore the therapeutic potential of controlling cell death!

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Brent R. Stockwell, Ph.D.

Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. Top Medium writer in Science, Creativity, Health, and Ideas