Researchers from Northwestern Medicine have determined that every cell within the human body contains a “kill code” that gets triggered if it senses a cell is turning cancerous. Marcus Peter has led the investigations that revealed the exact nucleotide code underlying this mechanism.
This is the same team that initially discovered a powerful switch in the human genome that can trigger small RNA molecules (called siRNAs). These are tiny molecules that also get activated by chemotherapy and are extremely effective at finding and destroying cancer cells.
From more than 4,000 combinations of cells with a single sequence of six nucleotides, called 6mers, they looked for the one most toxic to cancer cells. Surprisingly enough, the combination dubbed G-rich is the exact same 6mer utilized by microRNAs the body naturally releases to battle tumors. More importantly, tests show that the mutated cells can never develop a resistance to this destructive mechanism, as it attacks cancer from multiple angles simultaneously.
“It’s like committing suicide by stabbing yourself, shooting yourself and jumping off a building all at the same time. You cannot survive”, noted Dr. Peter.
Even though these findings are still a long way off from materializing into concrete treatments, the implications of this research are undoubtedly significant for the medical field. The next step of the project is to design artificial microRNAs that are even more effective than the natural molecules.
“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“.