Researchers at Johns Hopkins University invented a “cellular switch” that let cancer cells produce their own cancer medication and cause the cancer cells to self-destruct while sparing healthy tissue.
“The switch in effect turns the cancer cell into a factory for producing the anti-cancer drug inside the cancer cell,” said Marc Ostermeier, a Johns Hopkins chemical and biomolecular engineering professor in the Whiting School of Engineering, who supervised development of the switch. “The healthy cells will also receive the prodrug and ideally it will remain in its non-toxic form. Our hope is that this strategy will kill more cancer cells while decreasing the unfortunate side effects on healthy cells.”
The research team made the cancer-fighting switch by fusing together two different proteins; one that detects a marker that cancer cells produce and another protein extracted from yeast that can turn an inactive prodrug into a cancer-cell killer.
“When the first part of the switch detects cancer, it tells its partner to activate the chemotherapy drug, destroying the cell,”
“This is a radically different tool to attack cancers,” said James R. Eshleman, a professor of pathology and oncology in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a co-author of the paper that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “but many experiments need to be done before we will be able to use it in patients.”