Cancer Cell 16, 103–114 (2009)

A synthetic molecule that mimics double-stranded RNA viruses can trigger melanoma cells to digest and kill themselves.

Melanoma cells often evade the immune system and deactivate cell-death pathways. But María Soengas at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid and her colleagues have found that the cells respond to a viral RNA mimic called polyinosine-polycytidylic acid, an adjuvant that boosts immunity.

When administered alongside the carrier molecule polyethyleneimine, the complex caused melanoma cells — but not normal cells — to digest their organelles and eventually undergo programmed cell death. The process seems to happen without the help of other immune cells: the complex efficiently killed melanoma cells in immunocompromised mice.