Scientists at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson CancerCenter in Houston have shown that antisense technology canblock an oncogene from promoting rapid growth of cancer cells.

The research team, led by Dr. Jack A. Roth, reported in theMarch 15 issue of Cancer Research that human lung cancer cellscontaining an antisense K-ras oncogene grew more slowly thanuntreated cancer cells. Insertion of the antisense gene into lungcancer cells also reduced the ability of those cells to formtumors in mice.

Several biotechnology companies, including Genta Inc., GileadSciences Inc. and Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc., are using antisensetechnology to develop therapeutic agents to treat cancer andother diseases.

Antisense genes encode antisense RNAs that disrupt expressionof the corresponding "sense" gene, leading to reduced levels ofprotein production.

The Houston researchers also showed that the antisense geneinhibited expression of the K-ras oncogene, but did not affectthe expression of normal genes. These results suggest thatantisense technology may target the cellular defects leading tocancer without killing the cell itself, as occurs in chemotherapyand radiation treatments.

Roth cautioned that it will be many years before thistechnology can be used in humans. However, he said he hopesit can eventually be used to treat all tumors in which the K-rasoncogene plays a role. These include cancers of the lung, breast,colon and pancreas.

-- Carol Talkington Verser, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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