Tools and technology:
Technology to therapeutics
By Brona McVittie
“In terms of technology,” explains Michael Boutros, “in the next five years we will refine the tools for RNAi.” Beyond identifying cancer-risk genes, RNAi technology has potential therapeutic applications too. “People are very excited about that, but we have to be cautious. The principle is very simple really; RNAi could be used to switch off genes that promote cancer in cancer cells. However, there are huge problems with implementing this technology.”
“Trials are currently ongoing on macular degeneration, for example, where it’s clear which genes are involved. RNAi probes for these genes are directly injected or applied topically. We’re at a much earlier stage with cancer. Everyone’s waiting to see what happens so we can construct a model of how RNAi drugs might be developed. We need proof of principle first,” confirms Michael.
For RNAi to be used as a therapy on human patients, many years of testing will be required. Like any drug it can have harmful side effects. Currently, the use of RNAi is restricted to cells grown in culture in the lab or in simple model systems like fruit flies. "There are not yet RNAi-based treatments for humans," explains Barry Thompson, "although one day there will be, and the public needs to learn about this technology sooner rather than later."