Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is cancer incurable?

All of the livers above are from the same strain of mouse, which develops liver cancer. The livers on the right are from mice injected with virus that expresses a special microRNA that is usually lost in liver cancers. The livers on the left are from mice that were injected with a control virus. The animals were injected with the virus at the time when their livers had already developed small tumors, and then sacrificed for autopsy 8 weeks later. The same issue of Cell features another article about a microRNA that prevents breast cancer metastasis.

Despite their power, microRNAs are pretty new, and were discovered only through basic research:

The first microRNA was discovered in 1993, in worms. It took seven years for the second one to be found, also in worms, but then the floodgates burst.


Dave L said...

I'm sure that Chavez and Palin would have cut the funding for the worm research and lectured the scientists about trying to cure cancer instead of conducting useless research.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Dave, it's really a success story from worms. A related phenomenon, RNA interference (RNAi), was also discovered in worms. RNAi lets us turn off specific genes; microRNAs let us turn off entire sets of genes. This is the future of medicine.

The beauty of all this is that it starts with some good basic research and has now moved through animal models towards actually curing something. Hopefully the pharmaceutical companies will follow up and sponsor some research in humans.