Research is only starting out but hopefully this turns into something amazing, and even cross-pollinate the method into the HIV/AIDS war."By de-coupling diagnosis and treatment, we can create molecules that are both highly selective and highly effective in killing cancer cells," said Pierce. "Conceptually, small conditional RNAs have the potential to transform cancer treatment because they change what we can expect from a molecule. Many years of work remain to establish whether this conceptual promise can be realized in human patients."
Here's how it works: Treatment involves two different small RNAS. The first small RNA will open up if --and only if-- it finds the cancer mutation. A positive "diagnosis" exposes a signal that was previously hidden within the small RNA. Once this small RNA is open, a second small RNA binds to it, setting off a chain reaction in which these RNA molecules continue to combine to form a longer chain. The length of the chain is an important part of the "treatment". Longer chains trick the cell into thinking it has been invaded by a virus, tripping a self-destruct response.
In the PNAS study, researchers demonstrated that this approach effectively eliminates lab-grown human brain, prostate and bone cancer cells in a mutation-specific manner. Future experiments will determine whether the treatment is effective on a larger scale.
Nice analogyAt the heart of this approach is ribonucleic acid or RNA, and all of the normal tasks it performs each and every day to keep our cells alive and healthy. RNA is the relatively short-lived counterpart of DNA, the coding system that stores full copies of our entire genome within almost every cell of our body. If we think of DNA as information stored on the hard drive of a computer, then RNA is like information stored on a more volatile kind of memory like RAM -- which is erased when you switch off your computer.