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A growing number of small companies and a few large drug makers are taking a serious look at co-opting cellular recycling, or autophagy, as a way to treat disease.

Cells use this process, whose Greek roots mean “self-eating,” to clear damaged proteins, adapt to starvation, or fight infection, all by digesting their own contents. When autophagy’s essential genes are mutated and the process goes wrong, diseases from cancer to inflammatory bowel disease to Parkinson’s can result.

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