University of Wisconsin biochemistry professor Ronald T. Raines nominates pancreatic ribonuclease A (RNase-A) as "probably the most-studied enzyme of the 20th century." But in the next breath, he admits, "There are ribonucleases floating through your bloodstream right now, and we don't really know [their function]."

Raines and Richard Youle, director of the biochemistry section in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at Bethesda, Md., led two research groups that are friendly rivals--sharing reagents and corresponding, but not collaborating--in a competition to discover how ribonucleases can best be used to treat cancer. Both groups published papers recently that bore remarkable resemblances in their methods and results, giving both men added hope that they're headed in the right direction through a field still clouded by enigma.

Among what is known about the RNase A superfamily is that the enzymes are potent catalysts of RNA cleavage. However, human RNase (hRNase-A)...

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