You would get cancer all the time, if your body was not ready to react and suppress the starting disease. Immune system recognizes young cancer cells and kills them. Then there are tumour fighting genes, which stop cancer cells from dividing and spreading. Sadly, cancer is a sneaky disease, able to silence those genes. Now scientists from UCL have developed a method to reactivate those ‘tumour suppressor’ genes.
There are genes in your cells that are supposed to be read by other cell types. Cells used Polycomb repressive complex 2 protein, better known as PRC2, to silence genes whose instructions should only be read by other cell types. However, everything changes when you get cancer. Basically, cancer cells are able to change the function of the PRC2 protein, switching off the ‘tumour suppressor’ genes. When they are active, cancer cells cannot divide. But when those genes are suppressed, cancer cells can divide and spread freely, allowing the disease to settle in and work its way through the body. Now scientists figured out the way to reactivate those tumour suppressor genes, allowing the body to fight off the cancer.
Researchers discovered that when PRC2 is bonded to the RNA, tumour suppressor genes cannot be suppressed anymore. Scientists used sampled of cancer cells in the lab and attached RNA using a protein called dCas9 (Cas9 endonuclease dead). This removed PRC2 from the tumour suppressor gene and pretty much stopped the cancer cells from dividing. At the same time other genes, which were supposed to be switched off, remained inactive. This discovery could lead to novel cancer treatments, which would pretty much halt the tumour growth. Simply put, the PRC2 has to be removed for tumour suppressor genes to become active again and scientists already know the most effective way to do exactly that.
Of course, scientists are already laying out the next steps for the study. Professor Richard Jenner, lead author of the research, said: “Our discovery provides a way to precisely reverse cancerous gene silencing events, while leaving other genes switched off as they are supposed to be.The next steps are to test which cancer types this could be applied to and to develop a method that could be used to deliver the RNA and gene targeting agent to cancer cells in patients”.
It will still take some time until this research finds its way into a practical application. Hopefully, soon this knowledge can be applied in a clinical setting. And so inch by inch we will be moving towards a new generation of cancer treatment.