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    Rights: © Copyright 2016 University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved.
    Published 21 January 2009, Updated 5 February 2016 Referencing Hub media

    Scientists in New Zealand are developing a new prodrug therapy to treat cancer. Find out how an evolved enzyme is used with the prodrug to help target and destroy cancer cells.


    Viruses naturally infect cells. Some viruses find it easier to infect cancer cells than healthy tissue, and scientists are using these viruses to deliver genes to cells to treat cancer. This is a type of gene therapy.

    First, the gene is inserted into the virus’s DNA, and the gene encodes an evolved enzyme. The virus is used as a vector to deliver the gene to cancer cells.

    The viral vector moves inside cancer cells and inserts the gene encoding the evolved enzyme into the cancer cell’s DNA.

    The gene is transcribed into mRNA and translated into the enzyme using the cancer cell’s own machinery.

    Once tests confirm that the evolved enzyme is only present in cancer cells, a prodrug is added to the cancer cells. The evolved enzyme activates the prodrug to produce a toxin, which stops the cancer cells from replicating and they die.

    The toxin crosses the cell membrane and kills neighbouring cancer cells. This is called the ‘bystander effect’.