Tricking cancer cells to go suicidal

TULANE (US) — A new treatment that causes cancer cells to self-destruct while sparing surrounding healthy cells, has been successful in animal models.

The method takes a gene from a cancer cell, extracts the current DNA message from the gene and replaces it with a code that instructs the cell to kill itself.

“We sort of trick the cancer cell,” says W.T. Godbey, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Tulane University.

“When a cell expresses a gene it doesn’t look at the message;  if it recognizes the promoter it transcribes the message. Here the message is to express key proteins that cause self-destruction.”

Only cancer cells have the specific protein that will bind to this promoter; not normal healthy cells, Godbey says.

Details are published in the journal Cancer Gene Therapy.

Other gene delivery methods have been tried before, but because his method targets only COX-2 expressing genes there are no bystander effects that would result in damage to healthy tissue.

The targeted treatment developed in Godbey’s lab has been proven successful on several carcinomas.

Most recently, the gene therapy treatment has been shown to have exceptional cancer-killing actions when tested on bladder cancer in mice, a cancer especially difficult to treat due to a protective layer around the bladder wall, Godbey says.

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