Sept. 15 - Scientists at The Jackson Laboratory in Maine have developed a molecule they say offers the potential of providing a genetic alternative to chemotherapy in treating leukemia and possibly other forms of cancer. Tara Cleary reports.
Professor Kevin Mills believes the process underway in these cells could lead to a breakthrough for cancer treatment. SOUNDBITE: KEVIN MILLS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, THE JACKSON LABORATORY, SAYING (English): "We'd been doing genetic research for a number of years trying to understand the genetics that are integral to cancer cells and in doing we discovered a gene program that we believed could be targeted to induce cancer cell suicide, cancer cell self-destruction." Mills and his team at The Jackson Laboratory in Maine have discovered a class of molecule that destroys cancer cells in mice, by interfering with their self-repair mechanism. He says cancer cells' power lies in their very rapid genome mutation. SOUNDBITE: KEVIN MILLS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, THE JACKSON LABORATORY, SAYING (English): "But that's also an Achilles heel of the cancer cell, they have to have a protective mechanism to protect the genome from runaway mutation. Our molecules interfere with that protective mechanism that cancer cells require but normal cells do not." And while the cancer cells are destroyed, normal cells are left unharmed. Oncologist Thomas Openshaw from the Eastern Maine Medical Center says the program could one day lead to a more effective and less invasive alternative to chemotherapy for some cancer patients. But he says more research needs to be done. SOUNDBITE: (English) DR. THOMAS OPENSHAW, HEAD OF ONCOLOGY RESEARCH, EASTERN MAINE MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING: "Obviously this is an enzyme that's present in normal cells as well and the question will be what is the result of blocking this enzyme in human beings and we really don't know the answer to that." SOUNDBITE: KEVIN MILLS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, THE JACKSON LABORATORY, SAYING (English): "I think we're just at the beginning of an era where new drug discovery delivers drugs that very selectively target the cancer cells and we'll see a whole generation of new drugs being developed that are very specific for a particular type of cancer but eliminate many of the side effects." Mills says tests on human cancer tissue in the lab have bolstered that belief. And if clinical trials with patients prove successful, the new molecule could herald a new era in cancer treatment.