Cancer cells, by definition, are abnormal cells that divide with abandon and have the potential to spread throughout and wreak havoc on your vital organs and tissues. But what if you could tell those same troublesome cells to stop misbehaving? Israeli scientists think they’ve found a way to do just that.
A group of researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, led by Professor Varda Shoshan-Barmatz, PhD, have developed a molecule that prevents cancer cells from growing and turns them into normal, non-cancerous cells. This unique approach is based on siRNA (small interfering ribonucleic acid), a molecule that turns off a protein, VDAC1, that helps get energy to malignant cells. By targeting VDAC1, Shoshan-Barmatz and her team have essentially figured out how to make cancer cells start acting like regular ones.
So far, in vitro and mice models have suggested that this treatment might be effective for lung cancer, triple negative breast cancer, and glioblastoma (the type of brain tumor that John McCain is currently battling). But the applications might be even broader, and similar treatments might be one day used to combat an even wider variety of cancers.
“Although this is in the early stages, we are excited with results that demonstrate this novel molecule’s potential for cancer treatment,” Shoshan-Barmatz said in a press release. “Using the siRNA treatment for several types of cancer in mouse models reprogrammed cancer cell metabolism, reduced tumor growth and angiogenesis, reduced tumor invasiveness, and induced cancer stem cell disappearance and cell differentiation.”
Also worth noting: The siRNA treatment did not impact non-cancerous cells, which indicates that it has the potential to be a well-controlled, safe approach.
BGN Technologies, the technology-transfer company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has already patented the technology discovered by Shoshan-Barmatz and her colleagues. Next up, BGN will be identifying partners to develop and advance research on this molecule. A series of clinical trials are expected to follow.
This particular cancer-fighting strategy is just one of many that Shoshan-Barmatz is currently exploring in her lab. The former director of The National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev, she’s also focusing on the VDAC1 protein as a means to induce death in cancer cells.