Scientists have discovered the existence of extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA), which behaves like “Bond villains,” helping cancer cells to spread and develop resistance to anti-cancer drugs. The Cancer Grand Challenges initiative, supported by Cancer Research in the United Kingdom and the United States National Cancer Institute, has revealed that ecDNA acts as cancer-causing genes by enabling cancer cells to evolve rapidly and become more resistant to existing cancer treatments.
“Game Changer” Discovery
The team of researchers, including chemists, biologists, geneticists, mathematicians, and immunologists from London, California, and other centers, has claimed that the discovery of how these microscopic agents behave inside the human body is a “game changer.” Professor Paul Mischel of California’s Stanford University has said that ecDNA is responsible for a “large number of the more advanced, most serious cancers.” He believes that blocking ecDNA’s activities can block the spread of these cancers.
Researchers have found that ecDNA can act as cancer-causing genes by separating themselves from a person’s chromosomes and behaving in ways that circumvent the normal rules of genetics. Stanford University geneticist Howard Chang said that ecDNA behaves like villains in a Bond film. “At first, you see different explosions, killings, and disasters occurring, and you don’t know why they are happening or who is responsible. Then, at some point, you finally meet the villain who is revealed to be the agent of all this mayhem,” Chang said.
Resistance to Existing Cancer Treatments
While oncogenes, targeted by various drugs and therapies, can be found on ecDNA, it is their resistance to these methods that allows cancer to return. In the most aggressive forms of cancer, the oncogenes were actually found on ecDNA. When cancer drugs threatened the vulnerable gene, it quickly disappeared, hiding in ecDNA. Then, it reappeared once it was safe for it to start causing damage again.
The researchers are now looking to pinpoint the “Achilles heel” of ecDNA and have identified a protein that helps hold it together. The team has found a drug that has a “promising effect” on the identified protein. With a lot more testing, Chang is sure that they will find the best way to tackle ecDNA in the coming years.
The discovery of ecDNA by Cancer Grand Challenges can revolutionize cancer treatments for some of the most aggressive tumors affecting people today. By blocking the activities of ecDNA, the spread of these cancers can be blocked, and existing cancer treatments can be made more effective. The study by the team of researchers has led to the discovery of ecDNA’s behavior inside the human body, which can now help us tackle cancer more effectively.