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'Supermolecule' Could Detect Cancer Early, Help Destroy Tumors

Researchers modify protein to deliver radiotherapy to breast cancer cells (Nov. 6)

One protein could potentially be targeted to detect precancerous breast cells, to deliver radiotherapy to destroy tumors, and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment, according to a U.K. study.

Oxford University researchers have shown in the laboratory that a technique that monitors high levels of the gamma H2AX protein — found in many precancerous cell types, including breast, lung, and skin cancer — could be used to detect cancer in the early stages.

The team identified areas of DNA damage by using microscopic images of fluorescent “flag” molecules attached to an antibody that “homes in” on and attaches to gamma H2AX. The fluorescent “snapshots” of the protein revealed the location of precancerous breast cancer cells at a very early stage.

Study leader Professor Katherine Vallis said: “This early research reveals that tracking this important molecule could allow us to detect DNA damage throughout the body. If larger studies confirm this, the protein could provide a new route to detect cancer at its very earliest stage — when it is easier to treat successfully.”

Previously, the team modified an antibody to target gamma H2AX and to deliver radiotherapy to breast cancer cells that contained high levels of the protein. This form of radiotherapy works by boosting DNA damage until cells can no longer repair mistakes — and so they die.

The results confirmed that the radioactive antibody killed breast cancer cells and slowed tumor growth.

Vallis added: “One day we may be able to scan the body to map out the radioactive antibodies that have attached to the gamma H2AX molecule. This could also allow doctors to paint a useful picture of how effective a treatment is.”

Source: Cancer Research UK; November 6, 2012.

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