A research team, led by an Indian scientist, has created a mouse resistant to cancer, even highly aggressive types.
The breakthrough stems from a discovery by UK College of Medicine professor of radiation medicine Vivek Rangnekar and a team of researchers who found a tumour-suppressor gene called "Par-4" in the prostate.
The research team discovered that the Par-4 gene kills cancer cells, but not normal cells. There are very few molecules that specifically fight against cancer cells, giving it a potentially therapeutic application.
Rangnekar's study is unique in that mice born with this gene are not developing tumours. The mice grow normally and have no defects. In fact, the mice possessing Par-4 actually live a few months longer than the control animals, indicating that they have no toxic side effects.
"We originally discovered Par-4 in the prostate, but it's not limited to the prostate. The gene is expressed in every cell type that we've looked at and it induces the death of a broad range of cancer cells, including of course, cancer cells in the prostate," said Rangnekar.
"The interesting part of this study is that this killer gene is selective for killing cancer cells. It will not kill normal cells and there are very, very few selective molecules out there like this," he said.
In order to further investigate the potential therapeutic benefits of this gene, Rangnekar's team introduced it into the egg of a mouse. That egg was then planted into a surrogate mother.
"The mouse itself does not express a large number of copies of this gene, but the pups do and then their pups start expressing the gene. So, we've been able to transfer this activity to generations in the mouse," Rangnekar said.
The implications for humans could be that through bone marrow transplantation, the Par-4 molecule could potentially be used to fight cancer cells in patients without the toxic and damaging side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The study has been published in the journal Cancer Research.