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Gene Attack Hurts Cancer’s Radiation Defense

March 21, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Nuclear Medicine
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In the war between cancer cells and radiation therapy, researchers at Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta have developed ways to weaken cancer’s defenses.

Radiation kills cells primarily by damaging DNA. The researchers at Winship, which is part of Emory University, have been experimenting with RNA molecules that shut down genes needed for DNA repair. The scientists sneak the RNA into the cancer cells via modified lentiviruses or a short peptide. The team has published its findings in the March 1 issue of Cancer Research.

Said senior author Ya Wang, MD, PhD, of the technique:

It may be particularly suited to suppressing genes that are difficult to approach by simpler methods.

Dr. Wang is professor of radiation oncology at Emory School of Medicine and director of the Division of Experimental Radiation Oncology at Winship. She was quoted in an Emory news release.

The technique targets two genes that encode proteins needed for DNA repair. Both genes are more active in tumor cells than in healthy cells.

The technique also uses two different ways to shut down the genes, targeting both their coding and non-coding regions. The researchers reported that it makes brain cancer and lung cancer cells two to three times more sensitive to X-ray radiation. That allows oncologists to kill more tumor cells with lower radiation doses while reducing damage to healthy tissues.

Andrew Fire and Craig Mello received a 2006 Nobel Prize for the discovery that short pieces of RNA can silence a stretch of genetic code when introduced into cells. The RNA introduction technique is widely used in laboratories, but still experimental for use in humans. So clinical use may not be imminent.

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