Gene breakthrough destroys cancer cells

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The Independent Online

Scientists have successfully destroyed cervical cancer cells using a new technique that is being hailed as one of the most important developments in medicine for decades.

Scientists have successfully destroyed cervical cancer cells using a new technique that is being hailed as one of the most important developments in medicine for decades.

The technique, called RNA interference (RNAi), completely eliminated all the cancer cells growing in a test tube, yet left healthy cells unharmed. The scientists called the results "absolutely remarkable".

As the findings were released yesterday, another team of researchers was planning the world's first clinical trial of the technique, this time on a group of Aids patients. RNAi works by "silencing" harmful genes. Scientists believe it could be used to turn off the genes of infectious viruses or human tumour cells that have turned malignant – so rendering them harmless.

A study published yesterday in the journal Oncogene demonstrated that RNAi efficiently switched off the genes of the human papilloma virus, which triggers cervical cancer in women. All cancerous cells growing in a test tube died, leaving normal cells untouched.

Professor Jo Milner, who led the investigation at the University of York, said that in her long career as a cell biologist she had never before witnessed such a powerful anti-cancer agent that was so highly specific in selecting tumour cells.

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