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Scientists Report Experimental Therapy Eliminates Cancer Cell Growth

Scientists report they have manipulated a gene implicated in the development of cancer so it stops the growth of cancer cells in mice. VOA's Jessica Berman reports the researchers say the so-called jump-starting of the gene may lead to a cure for cancer in humans.

P53 is one of the most important genes in the development of cancer. When it is functioning properly, it keeps other cellular mutations that could lead to cancer in check. When damaged, P53 no longer stops other genetic abnormalities, facilitating the growth of malignant cells.

The powerful effect of P53 was written up in two studies published in the journal Nature.

When a team of researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York introduced and genetically jump-started P53 in a cancerous mouse, the gene put a liver tumor into an inert state known as senescence and the tumor gradually disappeared.

A separate group of cancer investigators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered something similar with the reactivation of P53 in sarcoma, a connective tissue cancer, and lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands.

The sarcoma became senescent and the cancerous lymphoma cells, just like healthy cells, began to kill themselves in a programmed fashion, a process known as apoptosis.

Andrea Ventura is lead author of the MIT study. Ventura says the research proves the concept that jump-starting gene P53 appears to reverse cancer, but he says people should not get too excited just yet.

"What we see in mice not always happens in humans, but we think it is a very strong indication that similar approaches might work for human patients as well," she noted.

Ronald DePinhol is head of the center for applied cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He says P53 is the most important of tumor suppressors in human cancer.

"It is inactivated as a virtual rite of passage for cancer cells to become malignant. And finding ways to commandeer or reactivate the pathway therapeutically would be of enormous value for cancer therapy."

But DePinhol says P53 is but one of many regulators involved in the development of cancer, and that 90 percent of cancer therapies eventually fail.

"Cancer is the culmination of many genetic aberrations that essentially endow would-be cancer cells with an array of biological capabilities," he added.

In a commentary he wrote for Nature, DePinhol says he hopes the work with gene P53 will lead researchers to find more defective tumor suppressors that cause cancers to thrive, so new drugs can be developed to reactivate the cancer preventing genes.