The 'survival signaling' research field is concerned with blocking the survival signals of the cancer cells. Usually, a damaged cell initiates its own death as soon as it ceases to receive survival signals, i.e. when certain proteins stop docking onto its surface, or once it no longer has any contact with neighboring cells. Programmed cell death (apoptosis) is a natural process that is vital for the organism. However, cancer cells are able to bypass this mechanism by themselves activating the signaling pathways through which the survival signals are sent to the tumor cells. In this way the degenerated cells prevent their own death and continue to proliferate unchecked.
Two signaling pathways that are activated particularly frequently in cancer cells are the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK and PI3K/PTEN/Akt/mTOR pathways. If these are affected by dysregulation, cancer cells can grow and divide uncontrollably, further aided by the fact that they become resistant to traditional chemotherapy. The researchers at Bayer are paying special attention to these and other signaling pathways. The aim is to find inhibitors that are capable of blocking specifically the tumor cells' signaling pathways, thus committing the cells to apoptosis.