Japanese scientists have developed a groundbreaking approach to fighting cancer through the use of artificial DNA.
About the study: The study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in December 2022, involved completed laboratory tests that successfully targeted and destroyed human cervical and breast cancer cells, as well as malignant melanoma cells in mice.
Led by professors Kunihiko Morihiro and Akimitsu Okamoto from the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo, the research team used hairpin-shaped DNA that they synthesized.
About cancer: Cancer, a major global health concern, has affected many in the U.S., with an estimated 609,360 cancer deaths and 1.9 million new diagnosed cancer cases in 2022 alone.
Since current methods of treatment are limited, the researchers were inspired to improvise using artificial DNA.
“We thought that if we can create new drugs that work by a different mechanism of action from that of conventional drugs, they may be effective against cancers that have been untreatable up to now,” Okamoto said in a statement.
How it works: Nucleic acid drugs, namely DNA and RNA, are not commonly used for cancer treatment due to the challenge of distinguishing between cancer cells and healthy cells. The risk of inadvertently affecting the patient’s immune system has been a concern in previous attempts.
Cancer cells often overexpress certain substances, disrupting their normal function and contributing to cancer development. In response, the researchers created artificial oncolytic DNA pairs, known as oHPs, which respond to an overproduced microRNA called miR-21 found in certain cancers.
Cancer-killing DNA: Once introduced into cancer cells, the chemically synthesized DNA strands attach themselves to microRNA molecules. Longer DNA chains are then formed, activating a powerful immune response. This immune response not only eliminates the cancer cells but also hinders further cancerous growth.
The research team warned, however, that while research shows promising results, it is still in its early stages and will take some time before a treatment can be made available to patients.
“The results of this study are good news for doctors, drug discovery researchers and cancer patients, as we believe it will give them new options for drug development and medication policies,” said Okamoto. “Next, we will aim for drug discovery based on the results of this research, and examine in detail the drug efficacy, toxicity and potential administration methods.”