Science has been trying to find the elusive cure for cancer for a long time, but sadly, there’s been no progress made yet. Cancer remains the deadliest disease of our time, and even those who survive the onset can later be killed by radiation or chemotherapy. However, in recent years many studies have identified potential natural cures for cancer, and the recent one offers the most hope of all.
The study was published in the Nature Biomedical Engineering magazine and revealed that cancer cells can be killed by conventional cancer therapies by altering the structure of chromatin in them. Chromatin is part of our DNA and responsible for packing the genetic code into the nucleus of the cell. It can regulate which genes are on or off, but, in cases of cancer cells, it allows them to survive.
Vadim Backman, co-author of the study, says that chromatin is essentially the “software” of our genetics (hardware). “Complex diseases such as cancer don’t depend on individual genes – instead, they rely on the complex interaction between a network of genes,” he said. This is exactly the reason why the study focused on chromatin as a key tool for fighting the resistance to cancer drugs. An imaging technique developed by Dr. Backman’s team last year helped them learn more about this set of macromolecules.
A new way of fighting cancer
The new technique developed by Dr. Backman and his team is called partial wave microscopy and allows real-time monitoring of chromatin in living cells. It can evaluate chromatin on a scale of 20-200 nanometers in length, which is essentially the point of formation of cancer cells. By using the technique, the team learned that chromatin has a specific “packaging density” associated with gene expression that allows cancer cells to evade any kind of treatment.
After examining the matter further, the scientists found out that the disorganized packing density in chromatin allowed most cancer cells to survive chemotherapy, and that a more conservative and organized packing density can have the opposite effect and kill most of the cancer cells. “We could predict if a cell survives or dies simply by looking at the structure of its chromatin,” Dr. Backman says.
Based on the study, the team has a theory that altering the structure of chromatin in the cells and making the “packing density” more organized can make the cancer cells more vulnerable to treatment. They started modifying the electrolytes in the nuclei of cancer cells and tested their theory by using two cancer drugs approved by the FDA – Digoxin and Celecoxib. By combining the drugs with chemotherapy, the result was more than surprising. “In only 2-3 days, almost all the cancer cells died. They couldn’t respond to the treatment, and Digoxin and Celecoxib didn’t kill them – they simply altered the chromatin structure in the nucleus. This is the Achilles heel of cancer cells,” Dr. Backman says.
And, although the study is certainly promising, Dr. Backman says that in order to confirm the theory, they need more funding and approved animal and human clinical trials. “There’s a big difference in the cell structures of humans. Without further research, we can’t know how the body will react to the change in the cell structure and if it will cause adverse side-effects,” Dr. Backman says, adding that they’re certainly excited by further testing.