Scientists at the University of Virginia have made a surprising discovery that could mean more effective treatments for a range of deadly cancers.
John Herr is professor at UVA’s medical school - an expert on cell biology, and he’s devoted many years to studying the unique properties of the human egg. His most exciting find could be good news for people who develop uterine, pancreatic, bladder, renal and ovarian cancers.
"What we discovered was there was a protein that was only found in the egg, of all the tissues in the body, and moreover it was only found in growing eggs and it was also on the surface on this high percentage of tumor cells. "
It’s possible to detect those proteins in the blood and urine of people with those cancers, to make a compound that could bind with them, to attach a toxin and, in so doing, to wipe out tumors without causing dangerous side effects to other parts of the body.
"So it allowed for a way to potentially selectively target the tumor and selectively diagnose the presence of tumors."
Now that Herr and his colleagues have proven those points in the lab, they’re moving on to the next step - finding the right toxin for use in humans, making sure it’s safe and effective, then figuring out how much and how often to give it. Brian Pollock, CEO of the company set up to do that, says it will take time.
"Maybe shortest timelines would be seven years - longer timelines, a dozen years."
But Herr is confident that new treatments will come from the work he has done. "You know anything can fail, but I think in this case the basic science foundation is very strong for a potential breakthrough."
And he’s not the only one with faith in this on-going research. UVA has seven patents on the work, and funding has come from the National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation. In addition to the prospect of new ways to screen for, diagnose and treat cancer, Herr’s finding could be the basis of a new approach to contraception.