A Welcome Infestation: Cancer-Resistant Mice

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Several strains of one of the worldís most prolific killers may have met their match in the genes of a small, furry army. On Wednesday, researchers at New Yorkís Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced that they had developed a new strain of mice, which look like your standard variety but carry an important piece of the cancer-prevention puzzle: They are genetically altered to delete the genes vital to the development of blood vessels that provide nourishment to tumors. Without the blood supply, the tumor eventually starves to death. This research comes on the heels of similar studies on rats, in which the injection of two proteins — possibly connected with the two genes — were shown to cut off a tumorís blood supply.

The genes in question were removed from the mice while they were in the embryonic stage, after in vitro fertilization. Once the mice were born, scientists injected massive amounts of malignant cells into the rodents. In each of the genetically altered mice, little or no blood flow was available to the tumor, and the tumors did not grow at their normal, aggressive rate — or they didnít grow at all. While the technology in this study is new, the theory behind it is not. "The idea of starving tumors of their blood supply is one of the leading areas of research in cancer prevention and cures," says TIME science writer Mike Lemonick. While this study doesnít translate directly into a treatment for humans, Lemonick explains, itís certainly a notable step toward a solution. "Nobodyís suggesting we genetically alter humans this way, but the better we understand the behavior of tumors, the more likely we are to find a cure," says Lemonick. "This could eventually lead to a very effective cancer treatment. We donít know that it will, and we donít know how it might, but it could be a very important piece of the larger puzzle."