MicroRNAs make for safer cancer treatments

October 27th, 2008 - 2:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 27 (IANS) Turning dreaded viruses into anti-cancer therapies is also fraught with concerns about their safety, but researchers have found a way of controlling them more comprehensively. They are engineering the virus’s genetic sequence, using microRNAs to restrict them to specific tissues, by destabilising their genome, making it impossible for it to run amok.

MicroRNAs are the nucleotide snippets that are encoded by genes, but don’t end up as proteins. In many cases, they have a role in down-regulating different cellular genes.

“Our findings demonstrate a new tool for molecular medicine that should also help allay concern over the use of viruses as a therapeutic delivery system,” said Stephen Russell, Mayo Clinic physician-scientist and co-author of the study.

In this case, a virus is engineered to be responsive to microRNAs that are present in certain cell types. Using this new form of targeting, researchers redirected a virus normally responsible for a lethal muscle infection to recognise only cancer cells.

The lab mice that received the engineered virus were cured of established tumours, sans side-effects, according to Mayo Clinic release.

Mayo researchers said microRNA target insertion may be a new way to make viruses safer for use in cancer therapy and could lead to new methods of making safer vaccines.

The discovery was reported in the current issue of Nature Medicine.

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