A kill code is embedded in every cell in the body whose function may be to cause the self-destruction of cells that become cancerous, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. 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.
The code is embedded in large protein-coding ribonucleic acids (RNAs) and in small RNAs, called microRNAs, which scientists estimate evolved more than 800 million years ago in part to protect the body from cancer. The toxic small RNA molecules also are triggered by chemotherapy, Northwestern scientists report.
Cancer can’t adapt or become resistant to the toxic RNAs, making it a potentially bulletproof treatment if the kill code can be synthetically duplicated. The inability of cancer cells to develop resistance to the molecules is a first, the scientists said.
“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 lead author Marcus E. Peter, the Tomas D. Spies Professor of Cancer Metabolism at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.More.
Research now focuses on why it doesn’t always work and how to fix it in those cases.
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