December 21, 2010 – Houston – Ovarian cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer among women, with about 15,000 deaths annually in the United States. The day when an ovarian cancer patient can treat her tumor with a single, painless pill instead of a toxic drug cocktail is the ultimate goal of the pioneering research of a University of Houston (UH) scientist.
Preethi Gunaratne, assistant professor in the department of biology and biochemistry, is studying a class of tiny genetic molecules known as microRNAs and pinpointing those that could unleash the body’s natural cancer-fighting agents and make chemotherapy a thing of the past. She discovered that miR-31 can specifically target and kill cancer cells that are deficient in p53, a crucial gene that guards the integrity of the genome and prevents cancer. More than half of all cancers and 90 percent of papillary serous tumors – the most common type of malignant ovarian cancer – are p53-deficient.
Additionally, she is developing a novel method to effectively deliver this treatment to the targeted cells by using an unusual carrier – nanoparticles of gold – through the work of Lalithya Jayarathne, a postdoctoral researcher in Gunaratne’s lab. In lab tests, gold nanoparticles containing miR-31 penetrated 90 percent of targeted cells within 20 minutes, killing cancer cells three times faster than microRNAs delivered through lentiviruses, which are traditionally used in carrying gene-based treatments to diseased cells.
- Creighton CJ, Fountain MD, Yu Z, Nagaraja AK, Zhu H, Khan M, Olokpa E, Zariff A, Gunaratne PH, Matzuk MM, Anderson ML. Molecular profiling uncovers a p53-associated role for microRNA-31 in inhibiting the proliferation of serous ovarian carcinomas and other cancers. Cancer Res 70(5), 1906-15. [abstract]
- Greene SB, Gunaratne PH, Hammond SM, Rosen JM. (2010) A putative role for microRNA-205 in mammary epithelial cell progenitors. J Cell Sci 123(Pt 4), 606-18. [abstract]
- Gu P, Reid JG, Gao X, Shaw CA, Creighton C, Tran PL, Zhou X, Drabek RB, Steffen DL, Hoang DM, Weiss MK, Naghavi AO, El-daye J, Khan MF, Legge GB, Wheeler DA, Gibbs RA, Miller JN, Cooney AJ, Gunaratne PH. (2008) Novel microRNA candidates and miRNA-mRNA pairs in embryonic stem (ES) cells. PLoS ONE 3(7), e2548. [abstract]