Huntington's disease could provide new cancer weapon
The discovery that Huntington’s disease can kill cancer cells could lead to new cancer treatment.
Scientists have found there is up to 80% less cancer in people who have the genetic illness Huntington’s disease than in the general population. Harnessing the reason why Huntington’s is toxic to cancer cells could lead the way to a new approach to treatment of cancer.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition that causes damage to the nerve cells in the brain. The damage gets progressively worse over time, and impacts mental and physical ability. There is no cure for the disease and it is eventually fatal. Around 12 in 100,000 people in the UK have Huntington’s disease.
The disease is due to a fault in the huntingtin gene, which means it produces certain genetic sequences too many times. This damages the neurons in the brain.
It has been discovered that people with Huntington’s disease are significantly less likely to get cancer than people who don’t have the disease.
In looking at why this is the case, scientists have found that the gene responsible for Huntington’s disease produces a molecule that is deadly to cancer cells. A paper published in the journal EMBO Reports has explained how scientists from Chicago, US, have tested the molecule in human and mouse cancer cells, and in mice with ovarian cancer.
Kills cancer cells
The molecules were found to kill all the cancer cells from both human and mouse lines.
Lead author of the study, Professor Marcus E. Peter, said: “This molecule is a super assassin against all tumour cells. We’ve never seen anything this powerful.”
Potential new treatment
The discovery that cancer cells are more vulnerable to the type of cell death found in Huntington’s disease could mean the process being used to eliminate cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.
Professor Peter said: “We believe a short-term treatment cancer therapy for a few weeks might be possible, where we could treat a patient to kill the cancer cells without causing the neurological issues that Huntington’s patients suffer from”.
The next steps are to improve how the molecule is delivered so that it effectively targets tumours, and to find a way of keeping the molecule stable in storage.
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