By Richard Balagtas
In what seems like a dream, the cure to cancer may soon be a reality. For the first time, scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida have been able to turn aggressive breast, lung, and bladder cancer cells back into harmless benign cells. The solution: discovering a way to stop cancerous cells from constantly dividing and replacing themselves.
In healthy tissue, it is normal for cells to divide and multiply to grow or repair damaged areas of the body. Yet in cancer, the cells do not stop dividing, leading to massive cell reproduction and the growth of tumors. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic focused on this area and “discovered that the glue which holds cells together is regulated by biological microprocessors called microRNAs.” In healthy cells, the microRNAs instruct cells to stop dividing by producing a protein called PLEKHA7, which breaks cell bonds. In cancerous cells, this process does not take place and the protein isn’t produced.
Scientists found that they could transform normal cells into cancer cells by removing the microRNA preventing the PLEKHA7 from being produced. More importantly, the discovered that in injecting microRNAs into cells or tumors could reverse the process and switch off the disease. According to Dr. Anastasiadis from the Mayo Clinic, “[cancer cells] are already missing PLEKHA7. Restoring either PLEKHA7 levels or the levels of microRNAs in these cells turns them back to a benign state. We are now working on better delivery options.” Experts in Britain said that “the research solved a riddle that biologists had puzzled over for decades, why cells did not naturally prevent the proliferation of cancer.”
“As of now, the experiment has only been carried out on human cells in the lab, but researchers are hopeful that the technique could one day be used to target tumors so that cancer could be “turned off” without the need for chemotherapy or even surgery.“
This represents a great leap forward in the field of biology, providing an “off” switch to one of the world’s most deadly diseases. Currently 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide each year, of which, 4 million people die prematurely. In the future with advances such as those made by scientists at the Mayo Clinic, these numbers may soon be nothing more than a myth. Understanding the progress made in this research is crucial to continuing the fight against cancer until a solution is finally found.