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Surprising Science

Forcing Cancer to Commit Suicide

Swiss and American researchers have found a way to program cells to determine whether they have become cancerous, and if they have, to order their own suicide.  

What’s the Latest Development?

New research offers the possibility of localized cancer treatment, specific to any type, which would leave surrounding healthy cells unharmed. Swiss and American researchers have designed a logic circuit to kill tumors. “In this case, the circuit is made of genes that detect molecules specific to a type of cervical cancer cell. If the right molecules are present, the genes initiate production of a protein that stimulates apoptosis, or programmed cell death. If not, nothing happens.” The procedure uses a synthetic gene to promote malignant cell death. 

What’s the Big Idea?

While treatments like radiation and chemotherapy are effective at killing cancer cells, they also kill healthy cells; localized treatment has since been the goal of cancer research. But the new research may go beyond cancer, perhaps yielding treatments or diagnosis for many other disease because “the genes used to create the circuits can be easily swapped in and out.”M.I.T. biological engineer Ron Weiss said: “This is a general technology for disease-state detection.”


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