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"Cancer Advance" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists have developed an effective new strategy for treating cancer, which has wiped out the disease to near completion in cellular cultures in the laboratory. The treatment works by controlling chromatin, a group of macromolecules -- including DNA, RNA and proteins -- that houses genetic information within cells and determines which genes get suppressed or expressed.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Resistance is futile.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Cancer. It's got a relentless ability to adapt, change or evolve when attacked by cancer-fighting treatments. Instead of coming up with a new drug to combat the disease, researchers at Northwestern University are going after its adaptability.

The team's solution: Chromatin -- a group of molecules that controls the expression of genes. It can regulate the ability of cancer cells to adapt and become resistant to treatment or not. Change chromatin's structure in the right way and cancer cells cannot evolve to withstand treatment.

The researchers found the key is to make chromatin's density more consistent throughout the cancer cell's nucleus. It just so happens that two known drugs now prescribed for arthritis and heart conditions have a side effect of doing just that. In laboratory testing, nearly every cancer cell died within three days, because their ability to adapt or change was taken away.

The success using this method and standard chemotherapy with seven different types of cancer cells is very promising but there's a big difference between testing cells in cultures, and the complex environment of the human body. Though more testing is needed before human trials, it may be that scientists have found a way to target cancer's "Achilles heel."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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