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MicroRNA scaffold cancer therapy

João Conde, Nuria Oliva and Natalie Artzi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Short genetic sequences called microRNAs, which control the proper function and growth of cells, are being investigated by researchers as a possible cancer therapy. However, their potential use is limited by the lack of an efficient system to deliver these microRNAs specifically to cancerous cells. Researchers at MIT have developed such a system, combining two microRNAs with a synthetic polymer to form a stable woven structure a bit like a net. This synthetic net can coat a tumour and deliver the two microRNAs locally to cancer cells.

The two microRNAs used have different mechanisms of action and work together as a two-pronged attack: one is a tumour suppressor, and the other is an anti-microRNA, meaning that it prevents a mutated, tumour-promoting microRNA from functioning. This therapy has already been tested in mouse models of breast cancer, where it caused a tumour to shrink by nearly 90 per cent after just two weeks.

The width of this image is approximately 350 micrometres (0.35 mm).

Imaging technique: fluorescence microscopy

Fluorescence microscopy is widely used in biological research and is based on the principles of light microscopy. Fluorescence microscopy is often used to detect the presence of specific proteins in cells, using special markers called fluorophores. When the light from the microscope reaches these fluorophores they become excited and release light of a specific wavelength, appearing as a particular colour. Different proteins can be studied in the same sample through the use of different fluorophores. The most common fluorophores used emit red or green light.

Location where image was created

Massachusetts, USA

Image creators

João, Nuria and Natalie all work together at MIT in Massachusetts, USA. Their work focuses on the development of new biomaterials that can be used to detect and treat a range of conditions, including cancer. João is currently visiting Queen Mary University of London, where he has been awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship. Find out more.

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