The End of Cancer
as We Know It

 

Diagnosis. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Slow painful death. No more. A new era of cancer treatment if dawning. Meet three scientists who are using the revelations of the human genome project to reshape medicine.

The bold prediction: in 10 years, suffering and death due to cancer will be eliminated. Today's trailblazing research and treatment of cancer is fueled by a host of technologies that analyze and manipulate genetic material at the molecular level. This six-page article goes into greater detail but here is a short version of the 5 latest tools for fighting cancer:

DNA microarrays: for decades, scientists were limited to studying just a few genes in a given experiment. But microarrays, aka gene chips, are changing all that. Using precision robotics, tiny slides are dotted with thousands of DNA samples representing different genes. The stamp-sized chips allow researchers to observe the complex interactions between hundreds (and possibly thousands) of genes that are now linked to cancer. The potential applications for microarrays range from lifting cancer's genetic fingerprints to predicting a patient's response to a drug treatment.

Bioinformatics: The Human Genome Project and the technologies that grew out of it have produced an ocean of data. The goal of bioinformatics is to mine that information for meaning. The tools: artificial intelligence, sophisticated search algorithms, and networked databases. By combining genomic and proteomic data from around the globe, researchers can identify cancer markers and even predict survival probabilities.

Proteomics: By cataloging the half-million human proteins, researchers in proteomics are seeking to understand their chemical interactions. Long before a tumor forms, cancerous cells produce minute traces of abnormal proteins. A handful of biotech companies are racing to build protein chips - microarrays that will identify telltale cancer proteins, letting doctors detect malignancies and monitor treatment with simple, noninvasive tests. Ultimately, proteomics could uncover new targets for protein-inhibiting drugs.

RNA interference: Human cells have a built-in mechanism that fights foreign invaders and regulates gene expression. It's called RNAi, and researchers have figured out how to harness it to short-circuit genetic expression. The DNA itself remains intact, but the cell is unable to produce damaging proteins. The technique has yet to yield any drugs, but it's already being used in the lab as a cheaper, faster way to deactivate particular genes in animals.

High-throughout X-ray crystallography: By bombarding crystallized proteins with X rays, researchers are producing highly accurate 3-D models of proteins that play a role in rampant cell division. Armed with this intelligence, drug developers can design precision inhibitors that bind to and deactivate these pernicious proteins.

Source: Jennifer Hahn, Wired, 8/2003



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