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Scientists devise new molecules that could ‘fuel revolution in cancer treatment’

New revolutionary molecule by Stanford scientists may transform cancer treatment
New revolutionary molecule by Stanford scientists may transform cancer treatment Copyright Euronews/Canva
Copyright Euronews/Canva
By Camille Bello
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The molecules take a unique approach to combat cancer by rewiring mutated cancer-driving genes to self-destruct.

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Researchers have created a new molecule that they say could revolutionise cancer therapy.

The innovative approach, published in the scientific journal Nature, harnesses the power of a new class of molecules called TCIPs.

Gerald Crabtree, a developmental biologist at Stanford University and lead author of the study, said the research could “possibly fuel a revolution in cancer treatment.”

When an individual or organism has cancer, certain genes, known as cancer drivers, undergo mutations that make them continuously send signals promoting uncontrolled cell proliferation and tumour growth.

Historically, cancer treatments have focused on inhibiting these cancer drivers or targeting their signalling pathways to stop uncontrolled growth.

However, the newly devised TCIPs (short for transcriptional/epigenetic chemical inducers of proximity) are molecules that take a different approach.

Instead of trying to stop the signals from cancer drivers, TCIPs can rewire the cancer-driving genes to self-destruct.

Molecules cause cancer drivers to 'self-destruct'

For the own good of the organism, we all have within us, in every cell, means for self-destruction, Crabtree explains.

“Cells can make a decision to disappear, to commit a kind of altruistic suicide in which the cells are eliminated because it's gone rogue for one reason or another,” he says.

“A cell could, for example, self-destruct as a precaution because it has mutations in immune function that make it attack your own cells. And these kinds of cells are eliminated by a very, very powerful mechanism.”

Crabtree says that it occurred to him that they could take the cancer drivers and rewire them to activate cell death.

“So we've invented a group of molecules that do that, they cause the cancer driver to now engage the cell death pathway.”

About 60 billion of our cells are destroyed every day by the cell mechanism, Crabtree explains, adding that the new molecule is “taking advantage of a natural cell death mechanism that we use for eliminating cells that have become un-useful.”

Preclinical studies in mice are promising

In the Stanford scientists' experiments, the mice treated with the new molecules exhibited normal behaviour and weight gain.

“None of them died or anything like that,” Crabtree said.

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And when human cancer cells were transplanted into the mice, the TCIPs effectively eradicated the cancerous growth and “cured the mouse”.

While the findings hold great potential, Crabtree acknowledges that translating this discovery into human therapies “could take several years”.

But once the safety and efficacy are cleared, the potential of these new molecules goes beyond cancer therapy.

Scientists are now using the TCIPs to pick out cancer drivers and activate self-destruction, “but we could also use the same approach and similar molecules to activate other therapeutic genes. And we've done proof of concept experiments for that.”

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