Friday, July 12, 2019

Cancer Specific Antigens Encoded in "Junk" DNA

Although we have made great strides in cancer treatment with things like chemotherapy and radiation, both of these therapies harm the healthy cells in the patients body while trying to eliminate the cancer causing cells. These treatments causes things like hair loss, weight loss, appetite loss, edema, fatigue, and many more negative side effects to the patient. In trying to find a safe and effective cancer treatment, scientist have sought to identify the antigens that are present on the surface of the cancer cells but not on healthy cells. This will allow them to pinpoint the mutant cancer cells, but unfortunately the hunt for these Tumor-Specific Antigens (TSA's) has largely been focused on predicting the mutated peptides from the cancer genome in individual patients, making them different for each cancer patient.

In trying to solve this problem, Claude Perreault expanded her solution to more than one patient at a time. She decided to use mass spectrometry to identify the peptides on the surface of different types of cancer cells in mice and humans. Her research discovered 40 TSAs. Of the 23 TSAs from humans, "most were not mutated and instead were generated from sequences whose expression is normally suppressed epigenetically, and many were shared among patients and tumor types", says Perreault.

The next step was to find where these peptides came from, so Perreault and her researchers searched every segment of mouse and human DNA. They discovered that over 90% of the TSAs came from "junk DNA," regions in the DNA that were previously thought to be noncoding. To see if the TSAs discovered would jump start the mice immune system, they injected them into the mouse. From this they found that some of the TSAs showed a weak immune response, but others showed an impressive immune response with one giving a 100% survival rate in mice.

I believe that researching TSAs to a greater depth could be a huge breakthrough in treating cancers. TSAs have the potential to eliminate some of the horrible side effects of chemotherapy and radiation and only get rid of the cells that are harming the patient. Although we have yet to prove that TSAs are a better alternative to other already established cancer treatments, with more studies I believe that tumor-specific antigens could be the future of curing cancers.

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