Scientists Are Testing ‘Decoy’ Molecules That Could Eradicate Tumors by Deceiving Them

April 19, 2019 Updated: April 19, 2019

Recent work in the field of cancer research has unearthed a momentous discovery: RNA-binding proteins hugely affect the rate at which cancerous tumors grow. These proteins are active in normal, healthy cells but are especially active in cancer cells, where they bind to RNA molecules, thrive, and ultimately cause the cancer to spread.

Posted by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Tuesday, April 16, 2019

According to scientists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, no cancer treatment has yet been developed to specifically target the proteins within cancer cells. These same scientists have recently completed encouraging laboratory tests on mice using newly developed “decoy” molecules, which trick RNA-binding proteins within cancer cells into binding with them. Unable to bind with RNA molecules, the cancerous cells cannot thrive and ultimately die off.

“Our technology is a new approach in the war on cancer,” said Professor Rotem Karni, the scientist at the helm of the latest research.

Preliminary testing on mice has reaped encouraging results. The Daily Mail described the findings as “breakthrough,” and reported that the team behind the study hopes that they are approaching the development of a treatment that targets myriad types of cancer.

The “decoy” molecules confuse the RNA-binding proteins into binding with them (Illustration – Shutterstock | crystal light)

Modern chemotherapy typically employs drugs that target cancer cells, but the drugs do not commonly differentiate between rapidly dividing cells that are cancerous and those that are healthy. “Normal” cells in the bone marrow, digestive tract, and hair follicles are therefore sometimes unavoidably targeted. This is why patients often experience unpleasant side effects during vigorous anti-cancer treatments.

The “decoy” molecules developed by Professor Karni and his team at Hebrew University’s Institute for Medical Research, Israel-Canada (IMRIC) comprise a sterile “oligonucleotide,” which employs complex trickery in order to confuse the RNA-binding proteins (called SRSF1) into binding with them. The deceived proteins are thus inhibited from binding with the RNA molecules in cancer cells, and so the cancer ceases to metastasize.

These extraordinary “decoy” molecules were laboratory tested on two types of cancer: brain and breast. “SRSF1 decoy oligonucleotides can inhibit malignant properties of glioblastoma and breast cancer cells,” the team reported, after successful preliminary testing.

The method? Brain cancer cells were injected into otherwise healthy mice, along with a dose of the decoy molecules, before being left to develop without intervention for three weeks. The mice were then humanely killed and their tumors were dissected and analyzed. The “decoy” molecules worked: mice that had been administered the decoys ended up with considerably smaller tumors than the untreated group after the 21-day period.

The “decoy” molecules were tested on two types of cancer: brain and breast (Illustration – Shutterstock | Gorodenkoff)

The research team posted their findings in Nature Communications: “Decoy oligonucleotides against SRSF1 can inhibit glioblastoma tumor growth in vivo,” they shared. Professor Karni, encouraged, said that the team was “ever closer to creating an anti-cancer drug.”

“We still need to examine the toxicity of the decoy molecules,” he continued, “and to test their efficacy on animals before we can move on to humans. However, I’m optimistic.”

As for treatment specificity, continuing research is mindful of the need to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells so that only the cancerous cells are eradicated. If developments are successful, the resulting drug could herald a huge reduction in undesirable side effects for cancer patients undergoing treatment in the future.

Successful developments could herald a huge reduction in undesirable side effects for cancer patients (Illustration – Shutterstock | Pixel-Shot)

Israel International News stated that a patent for this new cancer-fighting technology has been registered in the United States and Europe by Yissum, Hebrew University’s own research and development company.

Hebrew University cannot be faulted for their tenacity. “Sometimes you have to fight dirty to fight cancer,” they said.