Cancer is a disease that’s hard to deal with, from a medical, physical, and emotional point of view. Despite all the research and funds being poured into finding a cure for the disease responsible for taking so many lives, most efforts have been in vain. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t come close. Recent studies have found out that our bodies have a natural mechanism that is responsible for destroying cancer cells.
Research so far
A lot of studies have been done that have come close to finding the cure for cancer. Some have been really promising, such as a study last year which revealed that certain RNA molecules in our body can kill cancer cells in our body and even prevent these cells from becoming resistant to treatment such as chemotherapy.
It was a fascinating study, to say the least. What the researchers found was something interesting. However, they did not know what was causing the RNA molecules to destroy cancer cells. According to Marcus E. Peter, who led the study, the RNA molecules not only destroyed cancer cells but also got rid of genes in our body that those cancer cells needed to survive, thus, making it a permanent solution rather than temporary.
According to Prof. Peter: “It’s like committing suicide by stabbing yourself, shooting yourself, and jumping off a building all at the same time. You cannot survive.”
As mentioned before, the researchers were seeing these interesting results but could not explain them. However, two new studies have been made as a follow up to the results of this one. These studies were again led by Prof. Peter and they found out the reason behind the strange behavior of the RNA molecules.
There’s code embedded in our RNA
The newer studies have found that there’s code embedded in our RNA that is responsible for the self-destructive behavior of cancer cells. Although Chemotherapy is another method for achieving similar results, it has plenty of side effects too. Moreover, it’s never a 100% certain with chemo if it’ll actually help or not as cancer cells can become resistant.
However, the natural mechanism encoded in our bodies not only gets rid of the mutated cells but eliminates any hope of them making a return by getting rid of genes essential to cancer cells. It’s a rather extreme mechanism when you think about it. However, if it can help fight a disease such as cancer, it’s worth it. The studies on this subject focus on different topics.
The first one focuses on how toxic small RNA molecules can be made from larger ones. The second one builds on this information and describes how these molecules use the ‘kill code’ to destroy cancer cells.
The two studies give an interesting insight as to how the kill switch can be triggered. But first, to understand what’s going on here’s some basic terminology. A nucleotide is considered a basic building block for our body’s DNA and RNA. Several nucleotides can be hooked together to form a chain of DNA (taken from knowgenetics). Why is it essential?
Prof. Peter’s team found that a sequence of six nucleotides in small RNA can be used to convert that particular RNA molecule into a ‘toxic RNA’ molecule. This RNA molecule now fights and destroys cancer cells within the body. The first study is all about explaining how this toxic RNA is formed. Prof. Peter explains that 3% of all large RNAs in our body can be cut to form the smaller, toxic ones.
3% may not look like a large amount but given the sheer quantity of RNA present in our body, even 3% will suffice. The second study then delves deeper into these toxic RNA molecules to explain how they defend our body from cancer. Once the research team found the sequence of six nucleotides in small RNA, they did some extensive testing and tried thousands of different combinations to create a combination of nucleotides that would make the deadliest ‘toxic’ RNA possible.
The end result? Prof. Peter and his team were able to artificially create microRNAs that were highly effective in killing cancer cells. A key thing to note is that not only were they artificially created, which opens the door for possibilities in applying the results of this study to treatment methods, but these microRNAs were deadlier than the ones created naturally by our bodies.
“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.”– Prof. Peter.
A medical breakthrough?
It can be argued that chemotherapy, which has been around for years, can also trigger toxic RNAs, which is what these studies focus on. However, there are other problems related to chemotherapy such as chances for cancer to come again. That happens because chemotherapy changes the genome.
In contrast, there are no side effects related to the artificial microRNAs created by Prof. Peter and his team. They claim to have followed “nature’s lead” and only enhanced something that occurred naturally. It’s a major breakthrough in the sense that we now have something that is a potential cure for cancer.
Many other potential candidates have come before, but none have been more effective or promising as this one. However, we shouldn’t get too excited. This was just the early research stage. Lots more research on toxic RNAs needs to be done to see if something can actually be implemented to help cancer patients. Then, come the actual test trials themselves.
Researchers say it will take years before they can convert research into an actual treatment method. However, the research is definitely promising which will further fuel other research in this area and perhaps we might get a proper cure for cancer.