New Drugs May Stop Genes Linked to Cancers

NOVEMBER 16, 2005 -- A new type of drug being tested in mice is designed to block a new type of gene discovered only a few years ago. The genes, called micro RNA's, can control the activity of many other genes in our bodies.

"There are about between 250 to 300 different micro RNA's expressed in the human body. One can think of them as switches for genes in our cells," says Markus Stoffel with Rockefeller University.

While scientists suspect that some micro RNA's play a role in cancers and viral infections, most of their functions are still a mystery. Now researchers at Rockefeller University and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals have designed a new class of drugs that can match up with each micro RNA and turn it off.

"So by designing these drugs to basically pharmacologically shut down a given micro RNA we can also use this technology to understand what micro RNA's do in a living animal," says John Maraganore with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

As reported in the journal "Nature," they matched one drug to a micro RNA found in the liver and found out it controls cholesterol. The researchers say the new set of drugs will be a powerful research tool, and they also hope to test them in people.

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Courtesy of NBC Network