Huge news for cancer patients and their loved ones: Researchers at Jacksonville, Florida’s Mayo Clinic have figured out a way to turn cancerous cells back to normal cells. And it doesn’t involve chemo or even surgery.
In the lab, scientists were able to use an injection to turn off the feature that causes aggressive breast and bladder cancer cells to multiply rapidly, forming large, life-threatening tumors. They believe this same method could be used to develop new treatments that affect only the growths and not the rest of the body, as chemo does. “It represents an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software for turning off cancer,” says Mayo Clinic’s Panos Anastasiadis, Ph.D., a professor of cancer biology.
In the future, patients may receive an injection containing MicroRNAs, biological material that helps correctly functioning cells divide and replace themselves at a harmless rate. Cancer cells have lower levels of MicroRNAs, so they reproduce too quickly. The extra MicroRNAs would regulate their duplication.
Still, “there’s a long way to go before we know whether these findings, in cells grown in a laboratory, will help treat people with cancer,” says Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research U.K.’s senior science information manager. “But it’s a significant step forward in understanding how certain cells in our body know when to grow, and when to stop.”