Monday, April 16, 2007

Discovery of Genetic "Self-Destruct" Switch

Today's reports (here) about the discovery of switch p53, a genetic "self-destruct" switch. Turning this switch off during a stroke and heart failure could potentially reduce the risk of death and severe disability. Here is an excerpt from the story:

When patients suffer a stroke or heart failure, parts of the brain and heart continue to deteriorate after the initial illness. It is believed that temporarily switching off the mechanism can limit the destruction of vital organs and help speed recovery.

Scientists at Cambridge University say they have identified a way to turn it on and off. They hope to find new drug treatments that can be administered during a heart attack or stroke.

....The self-destruct activity of p53 is thought to be triggered when the body feels threatened. During a heart attack the heart and brain are starved of oxygen by blockages in blood vessels, causing the gene to damage tissue in the organs.

The brain damage suffered by stroke victims can leave them needing prolonged physiotherapy. Treating stroke patients is estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.8 billion a year. Drug companies are already developing cancer treatments that target the p53 gene.