Health scientists have made huge strides in recent years in diagnosing and treating cancer.
Some promising developments have panned out, but many others haven't. Researchers at Boise State University hope their recent discovery turns out to be one that puts science a step closer to a cure.
The National Cancer Institutes (NCI) has what it calls the NCI-60 panel of cancer cells, a list of 60 different cancers that can affect nine organ systems in the human body. Boise State researchers have developed a series of drugs they say will kill 58 of the 60 cancer cells.
Biological sciences professors Abdelkrim Alileche and Greg Hampikian identify the two drugs as 9R and 9S1.
Absent protein sequences
Over the last decade, the scientists have worked to identify a complete list of “shortest absent protein sequences for all sequenced life on earth.” Connecting the dots, they then determined that when these short sequences are absent, it can negatively affect the human genome.
“We realized this is exactly how the human immune system works, looking for short sequences that don’t exist in the human genome – and killing them,” said Hampikian.
So they started playing around with DNA, creating combinations that did not exist in nature. It might sound scary, but the scientists were convinced they were onto something.
In the lab, the researchers experimented, using some of the absent protein sequences to try to kill human cancers. They say one worked very well, so they used it to create the two experimental drugs. The drugs, they say, have been shown to take out all but two of the types of cancer cells in the NCI panel.
“There really is no similar type of protein, effective against solid tumor and blood cancers, from all nine organ systems in the NCI-60 panel – including kidney, ovary, skin melanoma, lung, brain, lung, colon, prostate and the hematopoietic system,” said Alileche. “While there are toxic effects against some normal cell lines, several cancers are more sensitive than normal cells.”
Could hold promise
That leads to hope that drugs harnessing the proteins could hold promise for combating cancer in humans.
Previously, researchers have had some success using the body's immune system to attack and kill cancers. At the time, it represented a sharp departure from previous methods of treating cancer.
This method represents yet another departure, and the two scientists say much more research will be required to tell if this development is as promising as they hope it is.
While this treatment holds promise for fighting cancer in humans, the team is beginning new studies and predicts it will be a few years before testing advances to that stage.
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