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​​​​​​​News of Note—using Huntington’s to kill cancer; making llama antibodies in yeast; choking off tumors’ blood supply

Deploying Huntington’s disease against cancer

Patients with the genetic degenerative brain disorder Huntington’s experience cancer at an 80% lower rate than the general population. Now scientists at Northwestern University believe they’ve discovered why the Huntington’s gene is toxic to cancer cells—and they have an idea for how to transform that insight into a cancer treatment. Huntington’s is characterized by repeating RNA sequences in a single gene that’s present in every cell. Those sequences kill nerve cells, but they’re also toxic to cancer. So the scientists packaged them in nanoparticles and delivered them to mice with human ovarian tumors. The treatment reduced tumor growth without causing damage to normal tissues, they reported in the journal EMBO reports. They’re now working on improving the stability and efficacy of the nanoparticles. (Release)

Llama antibodies without the llamas

Antibodies from members of the camelid family like llamas and camels are useful for studying how human proteins work, and they can be generated simply by vaccinating the animals. Problem is, this technique is expensive and time consuming, and it sometimes fails to generate the desired antibodies. Now a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco has figured out how to make the same antibodies from specially engineered yeast. They’ve created a library of 500 camelid antibodies, mixed them together and frozen them in test tubes. Each tube constitutes a “miniature llama immune system” that can be defrosted and used in protein testing, they explained in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. The process takes 6 weeks, as opposed to three to 6 months using the live animals, they said. (Release)

Shrinking tumors with nanorobots

Drugs that cut off the blood supply to tumors, known as “anti-angiogenic” medicines, have proven successful in several tumor types. Now scientists at Arizona State University have teamed up with researchers in China to develop tiny robots that can be programmed to shut off the blood supply to tumors. The robots are made from flat sheets of DNA. Each sheet contains the blood-clotting protein thrombin and an “aptamer” that homes in on cancer cells but leaves normal cells alone. When the DNA scaffold was injected into mice with several tumor types, they targeted the cancers, closed off the blood supply to them, and began damaging the tumors within 24 hours, the scientists reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology. (Release)

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