Researchers from Northwestern University published a study detailing how the body’s natural process of cell renewal has led them to discover a kill code that causes self-destruction of cells which become cancerous. The genetic alterations accumulated in the time allowed the disease to ignore these instructions, so far.
“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 Peter, PhD, Professor of Cancer Metabolism.
The team tested 4,096 different combinations of nucleotide bases and found that six nucleotides (6mers) present in small RNAs which showed a preference for guanine (G) triggered toxicity in cancer cells. Guanine, along with adenine (A), cytosine (C), thymine (T), and uracil (U) are the main units of genetic code and make up the long-chain helical structures of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
“My goal was not to come up with a new artificial toxic substance”, Peter said. “I wanted to follow nature’s lead. I want to utilize a mechanism that nature developed”.
While chemotherapy is an effective and widely use procedure for treating cancer, it does present some disadvantages. Patients regularly experience fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and even hair loss (to name a few). Courses need to administered in controlled conditions, typically in hospitals or clinics, and can take several hours.
The ability to “design artificial microRNAs that are much more powerful in killing cancer cells than even the ones developed by nature” will revolutionize treatments, leading to improved medical care and better outcomes.