‘Bond villain’ DNA could transform cancer treatment, scientists say
The Guardian reports:
Scientists have pinpointed pieces of DNA which, they say, act like Bond villains in the way they help cancers spread. These microscopic agents have also been shown to be responsible for helping tumours gain resistance to anti-cancer drugs. The discovery of these bits of genetic material — known as extrachromosomal DNA or ecDNA — could revolutionise the treatments of some of the most aggressive tumours that affect people today, add the researchers….
Made up of tiny loops of DNA, these genetic villains survive outside the chromosomes which are our cells’ main repositories of genetic material…. “We have found that ecDNA act as cancer-causing genes that have somehow separated themselves from a person’s chromosomes and have started to behave in ways that circumvent the normal rules of genetics,” said Stanford university geneticist Howard Chang. “They behave like villains in a Bond film. At first, in a film, you see different explosions, killings and disasters occurring and you don’t know why they are happening or who is responsible. Then, at some point, you finally meet the villain who is revealed to be the agent of all this mayhem.”
They also seem to resemble the Bond henchman who re-appears at the end of the movie. Professor Paul Mischel of California’s Stanford University says that when treating the most aggressive cancers, “The vulnerable gene had quickly disappeared when threatened by cancer drugs and was hidden in ecDNA. Then it reappeared once it was safe for it to start causing damage again.”
Mischel calls the discovery “a gamechanger,” identifying the culprit “responsible for a large number of the more advanced, most serious cancers affecting people today. If we can block their activities, we can block the spread of these cancers.”
And that hope was echoed by Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani of University College London Cancer Institute “The crucial point is that once we have found the cause of the problem then it becomes possible to develop and try out all sorts of drugs and therapies to tackle that.”
“The discovery of how these bits of DNA behave inside our bodies is a gamechanger,” said Professor Paul Mischel of California’s Stanford university, one of the leaders of the programme. “We believe they are responsible for a large number of the more advanced, most serious cancers affecting people today. If we can block their activities, we can block the spread of these cancers.”