Magazine article Science News

Drugs Target RNA to Kill Tumors ... and Block HIV

Magazine article Science News

Drugs Target RNA to Kill Tumors ... and Block HIV

Article excerpt

Most antitumor drugs destroy their targets by attacking cancer cells' DNA, aiming to kill off the malignancy by disrupting the fast-growing cells' reproductive machinery.

That's a perfectly reasonable strategy, says Sidney M. Hecht, a chemist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. But it has one serious drawback: It's not very selective.

Antitumor drugs tend to kill off all growing cells in one fell swoop. While doing the most damage to those proliferating most quickly--tumor cells--they also harm many healthy cells.

An alternative approach, Hecht says, involves targeting RNA. A molecule critical to cellular replication, RNA should prove easier to target selectively. But until recently, scientists have lacked the structural information on RNA that they need to cook up such compounds.

Now, Hecht and University of Virginia chemist Angela Snow report that bleomycin, an antitumor agent known to break up DNA, also chops up RNA in at least one type of bacteria.

"This is good news," Hecht says, because the finding indicates the existence of a previously unidentified mechanism for damaging RNA--a mechanism that chemists can perhaps exploit through carefully designed molecules.

A naturally occurring compound produced by bacteria, bleomycin effectively kills several soft-tissue cancers, such as tumors of the skin, lung, and ovaries. Physicians also use the drug to treat Hodgkin's disease, a lymph cancer.

The new finding that bleomycin can split up RNA inside live bacteria means that carefully crafted anticancer agents may someday strike vulnerable spots in tumor cell growth without damaging healthy tissue. …

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