Imagine a day when a cancer patient can have a blood or biopsy sample fed into a DNA diagnostics machine that takes the disease-state DNA results and within hours comes up with a tailored drug/catalyst therapy. This treatment will kill the cancerous cells in the body and leave the others unharmed, and it is capable of beating the cancer even as it mutates.
John-Stephen Taylor, Ph.D., professor of chemistry in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and his research team have taken the first step to make this happen by designing a new approach to chemotherapy that makes direct use of genetic material as a trigger to annihilate cancer or virally infected cells.
This innovative approach would facilitate the selective destruction of harmful cancer or viral cells, which has always been the less-than-realized basis for chemotherapy.
"All throughout history, the development of drugs has been based on trying to find a molecule toxic only to the pathogen or organism you want to kill," Taylor says.
But he notes that recent advancements in mapping the human genome and developing DNA chips have provided opportunities to determine the exact genetic composition of specific diseases such as cancer.
"Once you know the sequence of a nucleic acid such as DNA or RNA, it's very easy to make a molecule that binds specifically to that sequence by making use of Watson/Crick base-paring rules," he explains. "So the beauty of nucleic acids is that they present a trivial way of targeting any specific sequence you want."
Current experimental approaches that take advantage of the ease by which specific nucleic acid sequences can be targeted by Watson/Crick rules, such as anti-sense and anti-gene approaches, are based on binding to and then attacking the disease-specific nucleic acid sequences in an attempt to inactivate cancerous cells by interfering with their genetic codes. But it's difficult to predict the outcome of attacking a part
Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
Washington University in St. Louis