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Last Updated: Monday, 20 October, 2003, 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Cancer cells' repair kit blocked
Gene analysis
Gene technology disrupted the cells
Scientists have found a way to prevent cancer cells from repairing the damage inflicted upon them by radiotherapy and drug treatments.

A team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore used gene technology to cut cancer cells' production of repair proteins by approximately 90%.

This meant a lower dose of radiation was needed to disable the cells.

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

Cancer cells use tiny pieces of genetic material called RNA (ribonucleic acid) to produce repair proteins.

The researchers sabotaged the process by engineering RNA which disrupted the cell's repair protein production line.

Researcher Dr Theodore DeWeese said: "By dismantling the cancer cell's machinery to produce these repair proteins, we destroy its ability to withstand toxic chemotherapy and radiation treatments."

Step in the right direction

Dr Geoff Margison, a Cancer Research UK researcher based at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester, told BBC News Online the approach was highly promising.

However, he warned it would be five years before firm conclusions could be drawn about its potential.

"A lot of us are using similar approaches to knock out genes that play important functions in certain pathways," he said.

"Some tumours do have an enhanced ability to repair damage, and if it proves possible to knock out the genes that give them this ability then the tumour should become more sensitive to therapy."

Dr Margison said another approach currently being perfected was to develop a test to show which tumours were likely to be resistant to therapy.

At present it is difficult to know whether radiotherapy or drug treatment is likely to work as resistance to therapy varies greatly from tumour to tumour.

He said a combination of the two approaches held great possibilities for improving cancer care.

Huge variations in cancer care
22 May 03  |  Health

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