As a method for treating cancer and tumors, the transposon system has been a vital tool. And specifically, the Sleeping Beauty Transposon System, named because of its reconstruction from extinct transposase that belonged to the Tc1 or mariner class, and therefore brought back to “life” from a long sleep, 13 million years to be precise.
Transposons are DNA which are not uniform within an organism. The use of the transposon system as a basis for fighting cancer has now been brought to the masses. And, while originally it was brought about as a byproduct of genetically engineering bigger fish, this process is now being touted as a cheaper way of fighting cancer, and specifically, the research into fighting cancer.
This system sidesteps the traditional cancer treatments. Whereas cancer research revolved around creating a virus, this is a far cheaper approach to fighting the disease, and transposon systems like the piggyBac are being used as a great alternative. The simplicity of the transposon process is now so simple that it can be made by an undergraduate student! Creating a virus or obtaining them as well as purifying them is such a costly process that this makes a lot more sense for organizations to cut back on their finances while still pushing the technological boundaries.
The more recent discoveries with transposons are that they are helping us to understand our immune systems better. It has been shown that you can reprogram someone’s immune system to fight cancers, which is done by putting a gene into a cell that has the capacity to recognize cells of a foreign nature in the body. As your immune system has, in effect, a “memory,” it can target the threats like cells that are infected with a virus. While in the past, viruses were seen as the way to improve an immune system, using the common flu jab as a primitive example, it’s now immunotherapy that has become the main focus over the last few years.
The developments of three different types of transposons have been instrumental in finding the effects of different cancers. Some are able to find genes that are involved in the tumors, some in the cancer of the blood, and some are able to find genes in both. The development of the methods also means that researchers are able to activate the transposon in the organ they are studying, whether it is the pancreas, liver, or any other tissue. This was originated in studies on mice. It’s amazing that something that was discovered by accident from a way to help out fishermen has become one of the most important tools in fighting cancer. And, it looks to lead the way in the battle. With using our own DNA, the clues to the causes of life-threatening illness are right there, locked right inside us.
With the Sleeping Beauty transposon discovery, does this mean that there will be more tools locked away that have been lying dormant waiting to be unearthed? Fingers crossed that there will!