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Anticancer genes

Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. It has a major impact on society. Cancerous transformations can start almost anywhere in human body – it happens when some cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells regularly. In healthy body when cells grow old or become damaged, they die and new cells take their place. In cases of cancerous transformations this orderly process breaks down – old and damaged cells survive and divide without stopping and could form cancer tumors full of cancerous cells. Cancer can spread and invade into nearby tissues. In addition, some cancerous cells can break off and travel through blood or lymph system and form new tumors far from the original cancer. Modern medicine provides few anticancer strategies including anticancer genes. Human body contains limited number of anticancer genes which can prevent dangerous cancerous transformations. Some animals have better natural anticancer protection. For example, elephants have 20 copies of key tumor-fighting gene while humans have just one. This is why elephants live long and rarely develop cancer.

Anticancer genes are are very specific genes that, when ectopically over-expressed, specifically destroy cancerous cells without harming normal healthy cells. According to scientists, these “bad cell” destruction could happen due to several possible mechanisms such as apoptosis (“cells suicide”), mitotic catastrophe (delayed mitosis-linked cell death), necrosis (premature death of cells) or autophagy (self-destruction). On late 1990s scientists performed several interesting studies on cancer cells and anticancer genes emerged from these studies. Anticancer genes could open new effective perspectives for cancer prevention in humans and animals.

Anticancer genes – science

Anticancer genes

Certain anticancer genes can provide tumor-specific cell death signalling which can prevent specific types of cancer. If modern medicine can use genetic engineering and develop anticancer genetic materials, it could be used as very effective cancer prevention strategy. In future people could have chance to use anticancer vaccination and live long without cancer. But it is just our fantasy. Present reality is different.

First, scientists need to identify existing genes which can fight different types of cancer. Second, scientists should develop tumor-specific substances. Third, anticancer materials should be developed. Fourth, anticancer substances should be tested on animals and humans. And finally, anticancer genes can be used.

First isolated anticancer gene was so called “apoptin” which was encoded by the chicken anemia virus genome. Another anticancer gene “Brevinin-2R” was isolated from the skin of the frog. Noxa is very specific protein which was recently discovered as a specific killer of breast cancer cells. Scientists also identified another anticancer protein “Parvovirus-H1 NS1” which is another viral protein carrying tumor-selective apoptosis capabilities. So called “TRAIL” is a member of the TNF family of apoptosis-inducing ligands – famous anticancer gene which was identified in elephants (elephants have twenty copies of this gene).

Prof. Mathieu Noteborn

Recent studies have demonstrated a new class of genes encoding proteins with specific anticancer activity – they are able to cause cell death specifically in tumor cells by apoptosis, autophagy or mitotic catastrophe while normal cells are spared. According to scientists, these newly developed proteins are in clinical development and demonstrate promising results. Two scientists, Prof.Dr. Stefan Grimm and Prof.Dr. Mathieu Noteborn reviewed the status of cancer therapy approaches that emulate these proteins’ function. They concluded that systematic screening for such anticancer genes could lead to the identification of specific signalling pathways directed against cellular alterations that are specific for tumor cells.

Prof. Stefan Grimm

Unfortunately very promising studies of Prof Stefan Grimm stopped unexpectedly. Prof Grimm, famous scientist pioneering a new cancer treatment, gassed himself at home and found dead. The 52 year old scientist of toxicology, who was working intensively on anticancer genes, was discovered dead in his house after his bosses told him he was not bringing in enough money from academic grants. This scientist could save millions of lives but his bosses were more interested in fundraising but not in real science.

Anticancer genetic opens a new concept in cancer research with unique features and advantages. Genes with specific anticancer activities have very specific mode of action, unique cell death signals they induce and very promising attempts to translate them into clinical application.

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