Every year, doctors diagnose over 200,000 women with breast cancer. Almost 40,000 will die from the disease. Scientists have spent years on learning how to detect and treat breast cancer, but wouldn't it be better if we could prevent it instead? Scientists at Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University may have succeeded: they've developed a new non-invasive therapy that has successfully prevented breast cancer from forming in mice susceptible to the disease.
Women often undergo a series of tests to detect breast cancer early, as early stages of the disease are easier to treat. However, sometimes these early indications of cancer may never actually become cancer at all. Many of these women, though, still subject themselves to chemotherapy and radiation, which have many harmful side effects. Some women who have a genetic predisposition towards breast cancer try to beat the odds by having full mastectomies before cancer can form in the first place.
The idea behind the Wyss Institute therapy is simple: create a non-invasive, preventative treatment that is less harmful. They began by studying the genes that become active when breast cancer appears, and, by a process of careful elimination, narrowed it down to one gene, HoxA1. The next step was to create healthy breast tissue in a lab and create a short RNA string called siRNA that blocked that particular gene. They injected this into the tissue. Not only did the cancer cells in that tissue reverse their growth, but they eventually reverted back to their previously healthy state.
The scientists didn't stop there, though. They engineered mice with a specific gene that would create breast cancer within them. They then took the siRNA and put it inside nanoparticles and injected this into the mice’s nipples, specifically the milk ducts, where breast cancer generally begins. They studied the mice, and over time, the mice never developed cancer and stayed healthy.
Obviously, mice are not humans. But breakthroughs like this could lead to a future where women will not have to have their breasts removed or succumb to harsh treatments for fear of a disease that can kill.
Via Wyss Institute