Sherif El-Refai, PharmD, MBA, is currently pursuing further education as a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky. Focused on clinical and experimental therapeutics, Sherif El-Refai works within the university’s Black Lab, where researchers are investigating how manipulation of gene expression can affect cancer treatment outcomes.
Metastasis, the spread of cancer throughout the body, stands out as the most common cause of death in patients with breast cancer. Recently, however, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Institute for Medical Engineering and Science announced the development of a new therapy that may help to control this process. The methodology makes use of microRNA, a type of small noncoding ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule that directs expression of a particular gene.
The research team began by analyzing a triad of datasets to identify the microRNA molecules active in breast cancer progression. Analysis uncovered a particular single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), a kind of gene variant, that disrupts binding of microRNA molecules miR-96 and miR-182. This in turn prevented the microRNA’s in question from limiting expression the protein Palladin, known to be a factor in breast cancer metastasis.
Using this knowledge, researchers then created a method of delivering microRNA molecules to tumors in the breast. They placed engineered miR-96 and miR-182 into a nanoparticle, which they also infused with chemotherapy pharmaceutical cisplatin, and embedded the nanoparticle into a hydrogel carrier. When introduced to tumors in mice subjects, the treatment slowed tumor growth as well as metastasis.
The success of this experiment prepares the team to move on to the next phase of investigation. Lead scientist Dr. Natalie Artzi reports that the next step will be a larger mouse model, followed by clinical trials.