Scientists switch off cancer cells and return them to normal

Posted Aug 28, 2015 by Stephen Morgan
A team of scientists at the US Mayo Clinic in Florida have succeeded in "switching off" cancer cells and making returning them to normal again.
A breast cancer cell
A breast cancer cell
The amazing breakthrough was made with breast, lung and bladder cancers. Despite being in its early stages, the scientists believe this could be successfully applied to many other types of cancer as well.
Cancer charities have hailed the work as a "crucial" advance in the fight against the deadly disease.
The Independent reports that the work was focused on "the PLEKHA7 protein that clumps healthy cells together."
"The researchers," it continues, "found that when the usual sequence of cell regulation is disrupted, cancerous cells quickly occur and multiply out of control, but by adding mircoRNAs molecules scientists were able to prevent cancer."
The scientists discovered that cancers begin when the protein PLEKHA7 – which helps healthy cells bind together – is missing or defective. The result is that the cell's normal gene coding goes haywire and turns them cancerous. However, the Florida scientists were able to re-code the cells, resetting them so that they followed the normal set of instructions again.
The Telegraph reports that the scientists firstly experiment in actually switching on cancer. They did this by removing microRNAs from the cells – which produces the binding, PLEKHA7 protein agent – and then, they reversed the experiment and found that they were able to successfully switch the cancer off again.
What is novel about this approach is that instead of trying to kill the cancer cells – like most treatments – this method aims to disarm them and leave them completely harmless.
The Mail Online quotes Dr. Anastasiadis, the study leader, who called it "a new strategy for cancer therapy."
He described their success as "an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software for turning off cancer."
“We have now done this in very aggressive human cell lines from breast and bladder cancer," he explained. "These 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.”
According to the Mail Online some British experts have called the results, "beautiful" and "absolutely fascinating". The next step will to take this from the laboratory and see if it works on actual cancer patients. Researchers are hopeful, but admit there is still much to do.