In Brief
Researchers use a new method of delivering microRNA directly to tumors to treat cancer. The results have, thus far, shown that it is more effective than existing treatments, such as chemotherapy.
MicroRNA Strands

It seems that everyone knows someone who has had to contend with cancer. At one point or another, unfortunately, cancer touches everyone’s life. However, each year, we get better treatments and more information. Case in point, we may be able to use microRNA to fight back.

Short strands of RNA are able to help fine-tune gene expression, and we’ve known for some time that adjusting these microRNA levels raises the possibility of treating tumors, but the development of such treatments requires the microRNA to be delivered directly to tumors, a process that has proven difficult.

Now, researchers from MIT report that they have been able to twist RNA strands into triple helix and embed these in a biocompatible gel that (and this is the kicker) lets them efficiently deliver strands and use them to shrink aggressive tumors.

To date, the research has only been conducted on mice, so there will be some time before there are clinical trials; however, the results give us new information on how cancer (and cancer treatments) operate.

By simultaneously turning on a tumor-suppressing microRNA and de-activating another that causes cancer, this method has been shown to dramatically improve cancer survival rates.

Cancer Treatment

Researchers are now using the technique to deliver other types of RNA, DNA, and other therapeutic molecules. Natalie Artzi, a research scientist in MIT’s Institute of Medical Engineering of Science (IMES) and an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital highlights the significance of the treatment in the press release: “This is a platform that can deliver any gene of interest. This work demonstrates the promise of local delivery in combating cancer. In particular, as relates to gene therapy, the triplex structure improves RNA stability, uptake, and transfection efficacy.”

The team is now looking to use the technique to combat other types of tumors. “There are so many microRNAs that are involved in metastasis. It’s really an underexplored field,” says lead author João Conde.