When surgery or localized radiation is not an option, many cancer patients are left with chemotherapy as their only hope of attacking cancer cells. The problem is that this type of drug treatment not only goes for cancer – it attacks the whole body.
But thanks to "strong" new research by researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, breakthrough drug therapies could soon be available. Using the gene editing treatment known as Crispr, which can separate and remove unwanted genes in a DNA chain, deconstructed nearly 20,000 individual genes from more than 300 laboratory adult tumors on different cancers, such as lungs, colon, breast and pancreas. Separating these genes allows researchers to locate "weaknesses" in the cancer.
Through this process, they could identify 600 vulnerable genes that are crucial to a cancer cell's survival. This conclusion could be used to formulate new substances that will only target the vulnerable genes ̵
Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK Chief Scientist, tells the BBC, "What makes this research so powerful is the scale." The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature.
In fact, cancer is rapidly mutating cells that divide and spread rapidly through the body, and often form clusters that induce tumors. Cancers do this by changing and instructing our DNA to spread their vicious cells longer and faster.
If a tumor is reachable, surgeons will often try to remove the mass; Alternatively, they can use localized radiation to try to reduce it – and even then the likelihood of prolonged cancer cells in the body is high.
Chemo is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill cancer cells. It also damages cells throughout the body, leading to unpleasant and painful side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, extreme nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, high risk of infection and more.
"This is so important because we are currently treating cancer by treating the entire patient's body," says Dr. Fiona Behan, co-authors of the study. The result will allow researchers "to develop drugs that target the cancer and leave the healthy tissue undamaged."