A team of scientists the from the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in New Zealand have found that mitochondrial DNA can and does shift from tumours allowing the cancer to metastasis and spread through out the body. DNA was found to be shifting between tumour cells and healthy cells allowing the cancer to form tumours and colonise other parts of the body.
However this also provides a back door for a novel cancer treatment by replacing the mitochondrial DNA in tumours to reverse the process. Mitochondrial DNA was removed from mouse models of breast cancer and melanoma and after just over a month this DNA was naturally replaced by the surrounding healthy tissue.
“Initially we thought the cells had learned to grow without needing mitochondrial DNA”, said lead researcher and cell biologist Mike Berridge, in a press release. “But when we presented the research at a conference, a well-known scientist asked if we had tested the growing cells to see if they contained mitochondrial DNA. We hadn’t.
Previously it was believed the a mitochondrial DNA stayed put in their original cell except for cell reproduction and that assumption had became a fundamental of modern biology permeating our textbooks. ”Our findings overturn the dogma that genes of higher organisms are usually constrained within cells except during reproduction”, said Berridge.
“It may be that mitochondrial gene transfer between different cells is actually quite a common biological occurrence.”
The IMR team published their findings in the journal Cell Metabolism, and feels confident this discovery will enable to development of using this mitochondrial swapping to defeat routine cancer tumours. But the scope of this discovery goes well beyond treating only cancer as it provides an entirely new and possibly superior treatment pathway for a host of diseases currently plaguing humanity.
“This appears to be a basic physiological mechanism in the body that has not been seen before because they lacked the exploratory tools”, said Berridge. “Whether this new phenomenon is important in tumour formation is still unclear, but we are interested in pursuing the research to see if the transfer occurs more widely in the body. Preliminary evidence indicates it may be a common occurrence in the brain.”
This seemingly common place mitochondrial transfer of DNA between cells opens up an entirely new pathway for stem cell medicine. Defective DNA in mitochondria is known to cause around 200 diseases. In addition to overt pathological states, slightly defective DNA in mitochondria can effect the way a person’s hearing, eyesight, brain and muscle function, and is now being investigated for a whole lot more.
The researchers suggest that perhaps synthetic mitochondrial DNA could be custom-designed to replace the defective genes and stop tumours and other diseases from developing. So this mind boggling discovery may well have just found the holy grail for stem cell therapy to treat hundreds of diseases and dysfunctional states with a brand new insertion point for medically engineered DNA.
I’m guessing at least half of us are thinking of ‘Heroes’ episodes and wondering about maybe getting some super powers. Go on admit it. You did just a little bit, didn’t you.