By Ciara Fitzpatrick | Sep 9 2008SCIENTISTS at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have discovered a substance which could improve cancer treatments. The substance which is found within living cells has been found to have a previously unknown role, according to researchers led by Smurfit Professor of Medical Genetics, Seamus Martin.Researchers at the Molecular Cell Biology Laboratory are optimistic that the discovery of the new role of the Bcl-2 family of genes will result in new methods in attacking cancer cells. It is believed that the cancer cells could be thrown into a natural process referred to as apoptosis, or cell suicide.The Bcl-2 substance is a family of genes, which produce proteins, according to the TCD research. This discovery by Prof Martin and his team including Clare Sheridan, Petrina Delivant and Sean Cullen, means that there are potential opportunities for new research and possible new treatments.Bcl-2 is also important in the division of mitochondria, which are organelles in the cytoplasm which produce energy for the cell. This is a standard day to day role in normal cells, supporting the mitochondria within the cell. However, in cancerous cells it poses a problem as it interferes with cell suicide and allows the abnormal cell to avoid natural cell death.Attempts have already been made by pharmaceutical companies to produce a drug that can stop the Bcl-2 action in cell suicide, but it is possible that these drugs could interrupt the mild role that Bcl-2 plays with mitochondria. If this interference could be avoided, it would help companies discover drugs with fewer side effects.It is hoped that further research into of Bcl-2 will lead to new methods to inhibit its action, thereby reducing resistance to chemotherapy treatments.