Pulse 86: A Kill Switch for Cancer

5 November 2018
Giulio Prisco

Cancer Cells

Reading about new developments in cancer therapy is often frustrating. Important advances are being made, but the goal of curing cancer is still far. However, every now and then something that could be a game-changing breakthrough emerges. This seems to be the case for the discovery of a kill switch embedded in every cell in the body (see below), which could open the way to “a potentially bulletproof treatment.”

“Now that we know the kill code, we can trigger the mechanism without having to use chemotherapy and without messing with the genome. We can use these small RNAs directly, introduce them into cells and trigger the kill switch,” said Northwestern University professor Marcus E. Peter.

"Based on what we have learned in these two studies, we can now design artificial microRNAs that are much more powerful in killing cancer cells than even the ones developed by nature," Peter added. “We absolutely need to turn this into a novel form of therapy.”

Of course the road from the research lab to a therapy available to patients is still long, but there seem to be reason for medium-term hope.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a new form of an extremely potent opioid, called Dsuvia, to manage acute pain in adults, weeks after the chairman of the advisory committee that reviewed it asked the agency to reject it on grounds that it would likely be abused, The New York Times reports.

NYT explains that “Dsuvia is a tablet form of sufentanil, a synthetic opioid that has been used intravenously and in epidurals since the 1980s. It is 10 times stronger than fentanyl, a parent drug that is often used in hospitals but is also produced illegally in forms that have caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths in recent years.” The FDA has issued a press release on the approval of Dsuvia and the FDA’s future consideration of new opioids.

Kill switch for cancer found in every cell of the body. Scientists at Northwestern University have discovered a kill code that is embedded in every cell in the body, whose function may be to cause the self-destruction of cells that become cancerous. As soon as the cell's inner bodyguards sense it is mutating into cancer, they punch in the kill code to extinguish the mutating cell. A study published in Nature Communications shows that cancer can't become resistant to the kill code, making it a potentially bulletproof treatment. The next step is to duplicate the code synthetically and turn it into therapy.

Large clinical trial studies wearable technology to identify irregular heart rhythms. Researchers at Stanford Medicine, in collaboration with Apple, launched the Apple Heart Study last November to determine whether a mobile app that uses the optical sensor on the Apple Watch to analyze pulse rate data can identify atrial fibrillation. A paper published in American Heart Journal describes the design of this unique clinical trial, the largest screening study on atrial fibrillation ever done. The clinical trial has enrolled more than 400,000 participants.

Bio/Nano platform carries mRNA directly to target cells. Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a biological approach to directing nanocarriers loaded with protein 'game changers' to specific cells. A study published in Nature Communications describes how the scientists used mRNA-loaded nanovehicles to target the genetic instructions of an anti-inflammatory protein in immune cells. According to the scientists, the new method may prove useful in treating myriad malignancies, inflammatory diseases, and rare genetic disorders.

Boosting the drug sensitivity of tumor cells. Biologists at UC San Diego have discovered a new way of re-sensitizing drug-resistant human tumor cells to the potency of DNA-damaging agents (DDAs). A research paper published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology describes how a human gene known as Schlafen 11 controls the sensitivity of tumor cells to DDAs. The scientists are persuaded that the findings might pave the way to new strategies to overcome chemotherapeutic drug resistance.

Natural protein investigated by cancer researchers reduces fat in obese mice. Researchers led by Georgetown University have found that a protein called FGFBP3, which they investigated for its possible role in cancer, turned out to be a powerful regulator of metabolism. A study published in Scientific Reports shows that forced expression of this protein in a laboratory strain of obese mice showed a remarkable reduction of their fat mass despite a genetic predisposition to eat all the time.

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