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Clients in the News – Northwestern University Silences Incurable Brain Cancer Gene

MRI image of a glioblastoma multiforme. (Source: Wikimedia/The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the brain cancer that killed Sen. Edward Kennedy and kills approximately 13,000 Americans a year, is aggressive and incurable. Now, a Northwestern University research team is the first to demonstrate delivery of a drug that turns off a critical gene in this complex cancer, increasing survival rates significantly in animals with the deadly disease.

The novel therapeutic, which is based on nanotechnology, is small and nimble enough to cross the blood-brain barrier and get to where it is needed — the brain tumor. Designed to target a specific cancer-causing gene in cells, the drug simply flips the switch of the troublesome oncogene to “off,” silencing the gene. This knocks out the proteins that keep cancer cells immortal.

In a study of mice, the nontoxic drug was delivered by intravenous injection. In animals with GBM, the survival rate increased nearly 20 percent, and tumor size was reduced three to four fold, as compared to the control group. The results are published in Science Translational Medicine.

“This is a beautiful marriage of a new technology with the genes of a terrible disease,” said Chad Mirkin, a nanomedicine expert and a senior co-author of the study. “Using highly adaptable spherical nucleic acids, we specifically targeted a gene associated with GBM and turned it off in vivo. This proof-of-concept further establishes a broad platform for treating a wide range of diseases, from lung and colon cancers to rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.”

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