With a median survival rate of just five to seven years, Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) is considered the most aggressive blood cancer, and despite the progress in genetic-based cancer treatments, researchers have yet to develop an effective method for treating this rare form of lymphoma.
However, a novel method developed in Israel successfully locates and blocks the reproduction of a cancer-related protein in white blood cells, suggesting that a cure for MCL, as well as other blood cancers, may be within reach. The study was led by Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Dan Peer.
“MCL has a genetic hallmark,” Peer said in a statement. “In 85 percent of cases, the characteristic that defines this aggressive lymphoma is the heightened activity of the gene CCND1.” When over-expressed, the CCND1 gene produces too much of a protein called Cyclin D1, sometimes 3,000 – 15,000 times too many.
To reduce and regulate protein production, Peer has been investigating an approach called siRNA, or small interfering RNA. A synthetic strand of RNA molecules, siRNA is basically a gene silencer, designed to specifically target a particular messenger RNA (RNA molecules that convey genetic information from the DNA to the ribosomes, where protein is produced) and disable its ability to express a specific gene.
In principle, any gene can be knocked down by a siRNA strand, and has thus drawn keen interest from geneticists and drug developers since its discovery in 1999. However, in practice, siRNA has shown different levels of effectiveness; some cells respond well, whereas others show no knockdown. Delivering siRNA to white blood cells has proven especially difficult because they are dispersed throughout the body, and have thus far been resistant to conventional siRNA strands.