A landmark new study published by researchers Northwestern Medicine claims that each human cell has an embedded killer code whose natural function is to destroy cancerous cells.
The research, published in Nature Communications, elaborates that a "Kill Code" is embedded in large protein-coding ribonucleic acids (RNAs) and in small RNAs, called microRNAs, which scientists estimate evolved more than 800 million years ago in part to protect the body from cancer.
“Now that we know the kill code, we can trigger the mechanism without having to use chemotherapy and without messing with the genome. We can use these small RNAs directly, introduce them into cells and trigger the kill switch,” said study's lead author Marcus Peter, PhD, the Tom D Spies Professor of Cancer Metabolism.
“As soon as the cell’s inner bodyguards sense it is mutating into cancer, they punch in the kill code to extinguish the mutating cell,” adds the research.
Chemotherapy has several side effects, including a second bout of cancer.
However, with this new discovery, cancer can be extinguished internally.
“My goal was not to come up with a new artificial toxic substance,” Peter said. “I wanted to follow nature’s lead. I want to utilize a mechanism that nature developed.”
Peter previously published another research in 2017 showing cancer cells die on introducing certain small RNA molecules. He also discovered cancer cells treated with the RNA molecules never become resistant because the molecules simultaneously eliminate multiple genes cancer cells need for survival.
At the time, Peter said, “It’s like committing suicide by stabbing yourself, shooting yourself and jumping off a building all at the same time. You cannot survive.”
Cancer can’t adapt or become resistant to the toxic RNAs, making it a potentially bulletproof treatment if the kill code can be synthetically duplicated. The inability of cancer cells to develop resistance to the molecules is a first, the scientists said.
With inputs from northwestern.edu