Skip to content

Tel Aviv University Researchers Develop Method To Trick Cancer Cells Into Self-Destruction

Scientists encode bacterial toxin into mRNA molecules to induce cancer cells to produce self-destructive protein.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method to trick cancer cells into self-destructing.

The research team, led by professor Dan Peer and PhD student Yasmin Granot Matok, encoded a toxin produced by bacteria into messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. These mRNA particles were directly delivered to cancer cells, triggering the cells to produce the toxin, which ultimately led to their demise.

The findings of their study were recently published in peer-reviewed journal Theranostics.

Unlike with chemotherapy treatment, the toxins did not harm nearby cells.

“Our idea was to deliver safe mRNA molecules encoded for a bacterial toxin directly to the cancer cells—inducing these cells to actually produce the toxic protein that would later kill them. It’s like placing a Trojan horse inside the cancer cell,” said Peer.

An installation depicting the legendary “Trojan horse” built entirely out of microelectronic circuit boards and other computer components is pictured outside at the campus of Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on June 5. Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method to trick cancer cells into self-destructing. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

First, the research team encoded the genetic info of the toxic protein produced by bacteria of the pseudomonas family into mRNA molecules—resembling the procedure in which genetic info of COVID-19’s “spike” protein was encoded into mRNA molecules to create the coronavirus vaccine.

The mRNA molecules were then packaged in lipid nanoparticles for delivery to the cancer cells. These LNPs were developed in Peer’s laboratory. To ensure that the instructions for producing the toxin would reach the targeted cancer cells, the lipid nanoparticles were coated with antibodies.

The molecules were tested by injecting them into the tumors of animal models with melanoma skin cancer. The researchers found that after a single injection, between 44–60% of the cancer cells vanished.

“When the cancer cell reads the ‘recipe’ at the other end it starts to produce the toxin as if it were the bacteria itself, and this self-produced toxin eventually kills it. Thus, with a simple injection to the tumor bed, we can cause cancer cells to ‘commit suicide’ without damaging healthy cells,” Peer explained.

“Moreover, cancer cells cannot develop resistance to our technology as often happens with chemotherapy—because we can always use a different natural toxin.”

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

Edited by Arnab Nandy

“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”

Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.

Check out our free email newsletters

Recommended from our partners