Cancer researchers have demonstrated a method to reprogram tumour cells into benign cells in what could be a dramatic breakthrough in the fight against the disease.
Scientists warn the method has only been trialled ‘in vitro’, and has not been tested on live human patients. But the hope is the technique may lead to a treatment for different cancers far less destructive than chemotherapy.
Cancer cells are essentially the same as normal cells, but instead of stopping the process of division during replication, they continue to divide. The result is a tumour. The instruction to stop dividing is usually controlled by microRNAs, small but critical biological markers within the cells, but something happens inside cancerous cells which stops that process.
The team at the Mayo Clinic in Florida found that by injecting human breast and bladder cancer cells with PLEKHA7 — the protein thought to stop cells dividing when added in the right quantities — they could transform cancer cells into benign cells. The insight into the role of PLEKHA7 helped the team understand how the behaviour of proteins E-cadherin and p120 catenin, which are critical for holding normal tissue together while also powering cancer division, could be regulated.
“We should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function,” professor Panos Anastasiadis, of the Department for Cancer Biology at Mayo told The Telegraph. “Initial experiments in some aggressive types of cancer are indeed very promising.”
The study, published in Nature Cell Biology, is in theory a dramatic discovery, and if applicable in human trials would give doctors the ability to tell tumours to stop growing entirely.
“The study brings together two so-far unrelated research fields — cell-to-cell adhesion and miRNA biology — to resolve a long-standing problem about the role of adhesion proteins in cell behavior that was baffling scientists,” lead author Antonis Kourtidis said in a press statement “Most significantly, it uncovers a new strategy for cancer therapy.”
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