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U.S. Scientists Develop Algorithm To Defeat Cancer Cells

The most successful targets for precision medicine can be found by using algorithms created by University of Michigan (UM) researchers.

Photo Insert: Their machine-learning algorithm can identify backup genes that only tumor cells use, allowing drugs to target cancer.

These algorithms successfully identify the weakest targets in ovarian cancer cells—genes these cells depend on to live in the human body.

Cancer cells delete DNA when they go to the dark side, so a team of doctors and engineers targeted the ‘backup plans’ that run essential cell functions, SciTechDaily reported.

Cancer cells used to have suppressor genes that prevented them from spreading. Those cells, simply delete a portion of their DNA that contains those suppressor genes.

The cells also lose other genes that are necessary for survival. To avoid death, the cells find a paralog—a gene that can serve a similar function. Usually, there are one or, possibly, two genes that can step in and perform the same function to keep the cell alive.

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Researchers at UM and Indiana University have found that the way that tumor cells enable their uncontrolled growth is also a weakness that can be harnessed to treat cancer. Their machine-learning algorithm can identify backup genes that only tumor cells use, allowing drugs to target cancer.

They used mice to demonstrate their innovative precision medicine approach to treating ovarian cancer. The cellular behavior that reveals these vulnerabilities is common in most cancers, implying that the algorithms might generate treatment plans for a variety of cancers.

Science & technology: Scientist using a microscope in laboratory in the financial district.

"This could revolutionize the precision medicine field because the drug targeting will only affect and kill cancer cells and spare the normal cells,” said Deepak Nagrath, a UM associate professor of biomedical engineering and senior author of the study published in Nature Metabolism.

“Most cancer drugs affect normal tissues and cells. However, our strategy allows specific targeting of cancer cells.”

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This method is known as collateral lethality, and it involves leveraging information acquired from genes that cancer cells discard to identify weaknesses. The human body is equipped with a variety of defenses against cancer.

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