Southern Albertans collaborate on breakthrough cancer therapies

A life-saving discovery could be in the works as University of Lethbridge professors collaborate with fellow international researchers on a study for alternative cancer therapies. Demi Knight reports.

A life-saving discovery could be in the works after University of Lethbridge professors collaborated with fellow researchers on a study for alternative cancer therapies.

“This is actually a fundamental breakthrough in our understanding of how cellular processes in the cells are governed,” Dr. Olga Kovalchuk, a Biological Sciences professor at the University of Lethbridge, said.

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It’s an exciting time for this U of L professor, who is part of a study that has been examining ways to stop the reproduction of cancer cells.

This has been done by manipulating the levels of small molecules (also known as micro-RNA) that work to regulate cell reproduction within the body.

“Previously they were not really looked at; they were thought of as byproducts and tiny things,” Kovalchuk said, “but actually, these are very potent regulators of processes within the cells.”

Kovalchuk also says that cancer cells are very different than healthy ones in that they have the unlimited ability to multiply.

And so far the study has focused on providing evidence of how changing the levels of RNAs can regulate the reproduction of cancerous cells to a normal rate, and cause them to die when unhealthy; a process they have so far found successful.

“The balance between cell division and growth and cell death is really crucial,” Kovalchuk said. “When division overtakes cell death, that’s when the problem starts.”

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Kovalchuk, along with her husband and fellow researchers from medical institutes and Universities in China, Michigan and Boston, have been working on this study for several years and remain optimistic about the results that have been displayed so far.

“It holds a lot of potential for new anti-cancer therapies because these molecules are small and relatively easy to deliver. The key thing in cancer medicines is how you deliver it to the tumor.”

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First conducted using a breast cancer model, Kovalchuk says they’re currently looking at applying the study to other cancers and if positive results are found, there’s a possibility of clinical trials moving forward.

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