A new sensor developed by scientists at the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) in Germany has been designed to detect mutation of the TP53 gene in the cells and initiate their killing.

Described as a molecular smoke detector, the sensor will monitor the functioning of the human cancer gene and is activated in the presence of a non-functional TP53 gene to trigger cell death.

TP53 is considered as the most frequently mutated cancer gene as it is found to not function in 50% of all human tumours.

Scientists from the TU Dresden University Cancer Centre, the National Centre for Tumour Diseases NCT Dresden, and the German Cancer Consortium DKTK Dresden believe that a TP53 sensor could aid in suppressing tumour formation at a very early stage.

The team integrated a genetic element into the sensor to make cell function dependent on normal TP53, allowing activation of the sensor upon interruption of the gene’s function.

TU Dresden professor Dr Frank Buchholz said: “We treat cancer cells long after they have gone through the transformation process.

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“Cells with TP53 mutations can be selectively detected and eliminated at an early stage.”

“As a result, therapy is often too late to be able to eliminate all cancer cells in the body.

“The TP53 sensor enables an active precocious intervention for the first time.

“Our results show that cells with TP53 mutations can be selectively detected and eliminated at an early stage. Hence, the transformation process is prevented.”

Based on the initial data, the team intends to develop new cancer diagnostics and establish a protection system against cancer mutations in the long-term.