Re-engineering cancerous tumors to self-destruct and kill drug-resistant cells

Pennsylvania State University,  Medical Xpress,  2024.

Treating cancer can sometimes feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole. The disease can become resistant to treatment, and clinicians never know when, where and what resistance might emerge, leaving them one step behind. But a team led by Penn State researchers has found a way to reprogram disease evolution and design tumors that are easier to treat. They created a modular genetic circuit that turns cancer cells into a “Trojan horse,” causing them to self-destruct and kill nearby drug-resistant cancer cells. Tested in human cell lines and in mice as proof of concept, the circuit outsmarted a wide range of resistance. The findings were published today, July 4, in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The researchers also filed a provisional application to patent the technology described in the paper.

“This idea was born out of frustration. We’re not doing a bad job of developing new therapeutics to treat cancer but how can we think about potential cures for more late-stage cancers?” said Justin Pritchard, Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Early Career Entrepreneurial Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior author on the paper. “Selection gene drives are a powerful new paradigm for evolution-guided anticancer therapy. I love the idea that we can use a tumor’s inevitability of evolution against it.”


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