Oncology: A medical matryoshka doll
November 2, 2013 Editor 0
TRIPLE-NEGATIVE breast cancer is one of the nastiest there is. It is hard to treat and almost always fatal. One reason treatments tend to fail is that its cells are armed with molecular pumps which remove anti-cancer drugs that manage to get inside them. But Paula Hammond, a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks she can deal with this defence using triple-layered chemical bombs a few billionths of a metre across. The layers, somewhat reminiscent of a Russian matryoshka doll, first sabotage the pumps and then deliver a poisonous payload when the cells are thus unprotected.Each bomb’s outer layer is made of hyaluronic acid, a sugary polymer that tends to accumulate in cancer cells. This layer acts as a homing device to take the bomb to its target.The middle layer is made of RNA—specifically, a type known as small interfering RNA (siRNA) that are the products of tiny (and recently discovered) genes that do not encode proteins. It is now apparent that, contrary to what geneticists once believed, non-protein-coding genes, of which siRNAs are but a single example, greatly outnumber those that carry blueprints for proteins. The job of siRNAs is to interfere with protein production, in order to regulate it. But that means siRNAs might also be employed medically, to switch off the manufacture of a particular protein. Dr…
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Categories: The Economist
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