NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)-- Scientists have discovered a possible breakthrough in breast cancer, saying they've engineered an unusual drug that can stop cancer. There is hope and optimism, but also a long road ahead.
Behind the scenes at the revered Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory there are words you don't hear often in cancer research: "a very significant breakthrough."
These words are not taken lightly, but Dr. David Spector said it was a eureka moment when a new drug, which he and colleagues invented, chewed up and destroyed aggressive and metastatic breast cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
"The effect was so dramatic, it was not something I could have predicted," Spector, director of research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.
His recently published findings explain that the drug acts as a smart bomb. Tested on mice, it seeks out and latches onto what's called "non-coding RNA," a little understood cousin of DNA in the cell nucleus. Scientists discovered that's what breast tumors need to multiply and spread.
"The tumor totally changes from a very aggressive state to a far less aggressive state and metastasis is reduced significantly," Spector said.
Much of the RNA densely packed within a cancer cell was gone within weeks of treatment.
"So far we don't see any significant side effects," Spector said. "We can target those molecules that are present in high numbers in cancer cells, reduce that number significantly and in doing so, impact the disease."
At the Adelphi New York State Breast Cancer Hotline, where survivor Jeannie Retura volunteers, there's new hope. Retura lost her mother and grandmother to breast cancer.
"It will take a few more years, but I think it's going to happen and if it happens in my lifetime, it's a wow factor," Retura said.
With so much at stake, researchers are cautiously optimistic. They say many of the findings hinge on the next phase, which is testing on human tissue and clinical trials to follow as soon as three years from now.
Cold Spring Harbor Lab is now looking at other types of RNA in order to develop drugs to target other forms of breast cancer.
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