Researchers at the University of Rochester have designed a gene that produces a thousand times more protein in cancer cells than in healthy cells.
The findings may help address the prime challenge in anti-cancer therapy: improving treatments' ability to specifically and effectively target cancer cells. Using this new approach, scientists should be able to insert "self-destruct" codes into the modified gene, forcing cancer cells to kill themselves while healthy cells remain largely unaffected.
Though trials will be necessary to determine if the difference is enough to destroy tumors without harming healthy tissue, the initial findings, published in today's early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are promising, say the authors.
Vera Gorbunova, assistant professor of biology at the University of Rochester, and her team, Andrei Seluanov, assistant professor of biology, and graduate student Christopher Hine, were investigating Rad51, a protein that is expressed at about five times higher level in cancer cells than in healthy cells, when they stumbled on something very unexpected.
"We stripped off some of the Rad51 gene and replaced it with a marker protein DNA to see why Rad51 was five times more abundant in cancer cells," says Gorbunova. "We wanted to see if there was any way we could boost that difference and create a really useful cancer-targeting tool. We couldn't believe it when we saw the cancer cells expressing the engineered Rad51 around a thousand times more."
When Gorbunova first saw the huge discrepancy, she thought one of her graduate students had fumbled the lab test. Further tests showed that the altered Rad51 was expressed in some cancer cells as much as 12,500 times as often as healthy cells, says Gorbunova. Such a large discrepancy means scientists should be able to use it to create versions of Rad51 that carry a "toxic bomb," which only the cancer cells will trigger.
Rad51 is normally involve
|Contact: Jonathan Sherwood|
University of Rochester