Scientists have recently announced the discovery of something they are calling a molecular kill switch that could destroy cancer cells when activated. According to the new research, we can use microRNA to deliver what is essentially self-destruct messages to cancer cells. Therefore, they theorize we could incorporate this mechanism into new treatments; and possibly find a way to get rid of cancer—any type of cancer—without the need for expensive and painful chemotherapy.
Cells are born and then they die, in our bodies, every single day. As a matter of fact, approximately 300 million cells die in our body every minute! Of course, those cells are always replaced with new ones—so it is more of a regenerative process than one of birth and death. The human body does this to reduce the risk of malfunctioning aged cells or cells which have developed or carry disease.
The problem with this system, or what we have learned about cancer, is that cancer cells survive this process because they actually possess an inherent ability to ignore the immune system’s built-in self-destruct instructions. This does not necessarily mean, of course, that there is no way to deliver this message to cancer cells; we just have not figured it out yet.
Or, at least, that was the case until now. Previously, a study from Northwestern University described a possible mechanism that could program every cell in the human body for self-destruction. Essentially, then, this new study looked at the same data to determine how this might be possible.
And in doing so, they found that the information for cell destruction is already coded into RNA and microRNA. Basically, then, employing small-interfering (si)RNA to trigger toxicity in these cancer cells results in the activation of the same process initiated by chemotherapy.
Obviously, this study—and technique—is very important because cancer remains one of the biggest killers in the world. In the United States alone, doctors will diagnose more than 1,735,000 new cases while approximately 609,600 will die from the disease. The most common cancers are breast cancer, lung cancer, bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon (and rectal) cancer(s), melanoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney (and renal pelvis) cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, and thyroid cancer.
The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Communications.