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Treatment Hope for Patients with Incurable Blood Cancer

Posted on 22nd Feb 2013

peer.jpgA signature characteristic of Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) is the excessive over-production of a cell growth protein due to an overactive gene. At Tel Aviv University in Israel, scientists have now developed a new class of drugs based on RNA interference that can destroy the malfunctioning proteins. This discovery brings the medical community one step closer to treating this form of incurable blood cancer.

A key feature of MCL, an incurable B cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma with an average lifespan of 5 to 7 years, is an overexpression of a protein proliferation gene. This overexpression leads to a 3,000 to 5,000 fold increase in cell production. Previous attempts to block this gene’s expression have failed. However, researchers’ attempts have led to the realization that the protein might be a better target for therapies.

Lead author, Professor Dan Peer and colleagues decided to try an approach that focused, not on knocking out the gene, but instead influencing protein production through sabotaging gene expression. One such method, RNA interference, involves a natural process that results in modified gene expression. Using RNA interference, the researchers were able to reprogram cells to act normally and trigger cell death in faulty proteins.

This new class of RNA interference drugs is capable of killing off the mutated proteins and blocking the excessive cell production. When cancerous cells are targeted by the drugs and prevented from multiplying, they respond by triggering their own cell death. This method is detailed in the journal PLoS ONE.

Peer claims, "Ultimately, we want to be able to cure this disease, and I think we are on the way." He also hopes that this study will encourage scientists who had given up on treating MCL to persist in trying different methods.

The research team is currently exploring ways to breed mice with MCL so they can test the new drugs in animal models. In testing a new therapy, the normal course involves lab tests with human cells and animal studies, before eventually beginning a human trial. 

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, there are three thousand new cases of Mantle Cell Lymphoma diagnosed in the US every year. The disease can have a devastating impact and new therapies are strongly needed.

Find out more on Prof. Peer's latest publications, Nanotechnology for the Delivery of Therapeutic Nucleic Acids and Handbook of Harnessing Biomaterials in Nanomedicine.

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Jenny Rompas
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