Fighting BRCA Linked Cancer – PARP Inhibition

A recent Institute of Cancer Research study published in the New England Journal of Medicine describes a novel way of treating BRCA-gene based cancers. Mutations in the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes are routinely linked with higher incidence of breast and ovarian cancers in women; however, in healthy cells, the aforementioned genes are involved in a repair mechanism.The new drug, Olaparib, works by inhibiting an enzyme (PARP) involved in a different repair mechanism. Since healthy cells have the BRCA-based pathway as well as the PARP pathway, they can always repair themselves using the former method if the latter is inhibited. On the other hand, BRCA-based cancers do not have the BRCA pathway as an option, so inhibiting the PARP pathway destroys their only repair pathway. Quite a mouthful, but simple to understand. 😉

Eliminating two methods of cellular repair sure does pose a threat to the propagation of cancer cells. 🙂 Studies have shown that healthy cells remain relatively unscathed (since they have several options for self-repair), but cancer cells die. I surmise that future studies will encompass cancers not directly related to a mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

This is one fork of the future of personalized medicine – using an individual’s own molecular weaknesses for positive results.

I love how fundamental concepts can be used in such radical ways. In this case, analyzing the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells, and exploiting any variations to damage the latter while preserving the former. Medicine really is a grand application of simple ideas. 🙂

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  1. Does Myriad Genetics still have a monopoly on genes BRCA1 and BRCA2? I remember James Watson ostracized them for not allowing academic researchers to try alternative testing with those genes, the harm of commerce married with science. It is mind boggling that woman’s risk of breast cancer by age 70 jumps to nearly 80% due to a mutation of BRCA1 or BRCA2. Testing for mutations in this genes used to cost $2,700 a couple of years ago. It should be cheaper.

    If as you say, repair mechanisms are stopped and erroneous nucleotide sequences can be stopped from being inserted into the new strands, you are stopping cancer in its tracks. Sort of. That is good news buddy.

    “Over the next decade, a virtual armada of small-molecule and protein inhibitors will probably be ready to sail through the systems of cancer sufferers, thwarting blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) before tumors have a chance to become lethal. And if tumor growth can indeed be curtailed in this way, we may come to regard cancer as we do diabetes, as a disease that can be controlled rather than completely cured outright.”- James Watson, DNA:The Secret of Life

    • I hope when Obama vows to “conquer cancer in our time”, he understands that “conquer” doesn’t necessarily equate to “cure.” I think Watson hit the nail on the head. Eventully, most cancer patients will be able to coexist with their disease like diabetics and those with heart disease.

      Also, again off of Watson’s quote, wouldn’t it be cool to have nanorobots floating around the body measuring hormone levels, checking for rogue proteins, etc.? I guess that’s another chapter for personalized medicine. 🙂

      • Lol! You a psychic or something? Dr. Hopp can probably vouch for the fact that I also implied a couple of times that nanobots floating inside your body can do as you mention and also unclog heart arteries due to atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, when she would go on conferences, experts would say nanotechnology is still a bit far into the future to be therapeutic… 🙁


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