New Weapon Identified in War on Cervical Cancer

Monday, 03 Jun 2013 12:02 PM

By Nick Tate

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British scientists have identified a potential new weapon against cervical cancer that works by disabling a key protein associated tied to the disease’s development.

Researchers at the University of Leeds' School of Molecular and Cellular Biology have created a molecule — called an RNA aptamer — that latches onto the carcinogenic protein and targets it for destruction. The so-called E7 protein is tied to human papillomavirus (HPV) and blocks the body's natural defenses against tumor growth.

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"We ... need to maintain screening and to develop novel therapeutic strategies" for HPV, said lead researcher Nicola Stonehouse, M.D. "Currently, if you have advanced cervical cancer or head and neck cancer — both of which are associated with [HPV] — you really have little choice but surgery. If we can use this aptamer to target the carcinogenic protein, we might be talking about much less radical surgery in the future."
 
The Leeds team discovered the new anti-cancer molecule by accident, but said it may prove a useful tool against cervical cancer and other forms of the disease.
 
"We were not trying to develop a therapy. We wanted to create better ways of looking at the virus infection because the current tools that we have are very limited," Dr. Stonehouse said. "But what we found was that the aptamers caused the E7 protein to actually disappear. They seem to target it to be degraded. In a cell which is producing lots of E7 and is therefore dangerous, the level of E7 goes down if these RNA aptamers are there."
 
The new study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One, involved laboratory cell lines and not studies of actual cancer patients, but the discovery could lead to less invasive treatments down the road, researchers said.

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