A few weeks ago we heard about a study where a virus was modified to destroy other viruses by re-programing healthy cells into killing it’s self. It was called the Draco. Now, group of researchers from MIT and Switzerland’s ETH Zurich think they found a way to program cells to run two simple test, test to see if they have become cancerous, and if they did, to order their own apoptosis – commit suicide.
This new study could also destroy Tumors, leaving healthy tissues unharmed.
So how do they re-program a cell? well, they actually designed a logic circuit. This circuit actually makes a decision based on multiple inputs formed out of biological markers. The circuit is made of actual human genes that detect molecules that are unique to the different types of cancer. If this circuit detects the right molecules, the circuit begins to send out the signal to create a protein that actually stimulates apoptosis. IF the circuit doesn’t detect any cancer molecules, then nothing happens, leaving our normal cells alive.
The best thing about this new type of “cure” is that the circuits can actually be swapped in and out of the body, meaning that this system could give us several other cures to other diseases. They would just re-program the circuits to hunt for a different cure altogether and have it start the exact same process all over again, except this time it will look for the “flu” virus rather than cancer cells.
This system is the first that can detect six different biological markers inside a cancer cell; most others look for only one or two, which Weiss says is not enough. “Cancer is a complex cellular state,” he says. “In order to be able to make an informed, accurate and precise decision about whether an individual cell is cancerous or not, you really have to look at the system as a whole and look at multiple inputs.”
Now the researchers are trying to make sure the circuit is going to work as planned all of the time. They are working on ironing out minor kinks that could potentially set off false positives – aka- kill us from the inside out if it begins to trigger our healthy cells rather than the bad ones.
If you want to learn more about how the new circuits work, check out the research from MIT.