Treating breast cancer with a novel programmable fusogenic gene delivery system for small interfering RNA targeting integrin-linked kinase

Cancer is a disease characterized by specific functional capabilities that are not typically expressed by normal healthy cells. For example, cancer cells can grow in the absence of normal growth signals, build resistance to the detrimental effects of drugs, invade and spread to other sites of the body. These capabilities are a result of acquired or inherited genetic mutations to DNA within cells, damaging genetic information that defines normal cellular function. If these unique features of cancer cells can be altered or corrected using gene therapy, it may provide an effective strategy to treat cancer. Studies have shown that in both plants and animal cells, introduction of man-made molecules known as small interfering RNAs (siRNA) can result in the suppression (silencing) of specific genes that promote cancer growth. Ultimately, this weakens the cancer cells to cause cell death or make cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation and/or chemotherapy. One promising siRNA treatment targets breast cancer by suppressing integrin-linked kinase (ILK), a protein that is known to be over-expressed in breast cancer. However, the effectiveness of siRNA treatment is currently hampered by issues related to the way the drug is delivered to the tumour. Dr. Emmanuel Ho is working to develop and test a novel method to deliver the drug only to cancer cells, leaving healthy, non-cancerous cells unaffected. By doing so, he hopes that the siRNA will decrease the expression of ILK and result in a decrease of breast tumour growth. If this new drug delivery system proves successful, the technology will enhance breast cancer treatment and facilitate the development of other siRNAs that are safe and effective.