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Researchers Make Cancer Double-Cross Itself

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Getting cancer medications into cancer cells would be much easier if doctors could get the cancer cells to produce the medication themselves. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have engineered a protein "switch" that makes cancer cells produce chemotherapeutic agents, the university says. Instead of fighting cancer with broadly applied chemotherapy drugs that could also harm healthy cells, a doctor would administer an inactive form of a cancer fighting drug, called a pro-drug. And if a cancer marker is detected in a patient by these protein switches, they would turn the pro-drug into active chemotherapy, but only in the cells where the biomarker is detected, the press release says. "The switch in effect turns the cancer cell into a factory for producing the anti-cancer drug inside the cancer cell," Marc Ostermeier from Johns Hopkins says. "The healthy cells will also receive the pro-drug, and ideally it will remain in its non-toxic form. Our hope is that this strategy will kill more cancer cells while decreasing the unfortunate side effects on healthy cells." The switch is made by fusing two different proteins together: One protein detects the biomarker and the other protein flips the pro-drug switch. The team, which published its study recently in PNAS, has not tested the approach on humans, but has demonstrated that these switches work on human colon cancer and breast cancer cell lines. Animal testing is expected to begin within a year.

The Scan

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