Scientists don't say the word “breakthrough” very often, so when Dr. David Spector at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory used that word to announce the development of a new drug to fight cancer, it was indeed significant. Spector and his colleagues have engineered a drug that appears to be able to destroy aggressive breast cancer cells. It also destroys metastatic cancer cells, and it does so without damaging healthy tissue.
The experiments were done on mice, and the effects were far beyond anything Spector expected or even hoped to see. The team was able to single out Malat1 (a long non-coding RNA) with the drug antisense oligonucleotide (ASO). The drug attaches itself to non-coding RNA, which sits in the nucleus of a cell. A cancer cell requires non-coding RNA to replicate and spread through the body. Once Spector's drug attaches to it, however, the replication becomes far less aggressive, reducing the spread of cancer through the body.
The results showed that to become metastatic, breast cancer cells depend on the non-coding RNA in the cells' nucleus. If this non-coding RNA is removed, the metastatic tumors can't survive and spread. The tumors as a whole are drastically changed by this treatment. The treatment only took weeks to destroy the non-coding RNA, and there were no significant side effects.
The researchers are now moving on to study the same drugs in human tumors, based on the promising findings with the mice. After the studies on human tissue, clinical trials could begin in as few as three years. Researchers are optimistic that this discovery could lead to similar treatments against other forms of cancer. The news of what could be a very significant breakthrough indeed has already provided hope to many breast cancer survivors.
Although the fight against cancer is a multi-faceted one, progress is being made on many fronts. Check out this story about the way in which researchers are causing leukemia cells to turn on each other and destroy other cancer cells.