New Type of Gene Therapy May Help Shrink Cancer Tumors

Cancer |

MALDEN- A preliminary study using a new gene therapy technique may prove to be a breakthrough in the treatment of cancer tumors.

Scientists at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston report that nine men with advanced lung cancer were given treatment with a special gene already present in the body. This gene, called p53, has been described as a kind of “guardian” gene. When healthy, it can suppress the growth of tumors and help destroy damaged cells.

However, these genes have been found to be damaged in at least half of all types of cancer. Once they are damaged, they cannot stem the tide of growing cancer cells, and tumors are then able to develop and spread.

The intent of the new gene therapy treatment is to repair and renew damaged p53 genes. Research participants were injected with healthy p53 genes to specific sites that were most life threatening, such as the lungs, other parts of the chest, and in one case the adrenal gland. Post treatment biopsies and x-rays confirmed that the genes had indeed been incorporated into the patients’ own genetic material.

The results, reported in the September issue of Nature Medicine show promise: three tumors were reduced, three tumors stopped growing, and one tumor continued to grow. Two patients were unable to complete the study. Although the experimental treatment did help fight tumors in locally treated parts of the body, all patients did eventually die due to the spread of tumors elsewhere in the body.

Researchers caution that while this small study proves that there is validity in the principle of this type of treatment, larger studies are needed to study the efficacy of this new gene therapy.

Scientists are looking upon this new technique with interest: while traditional methods manipulated the immune system to fight cancer cells, this therapy instead directly corrects a gene flaw to help reduce tumor growth. This approach may be useful in treating not only lung cancer, but other cancers such as breast and colon. Dr. Jack Roth, director of the study, commented, “This is the first study to address the genetic mechanisms that make a cell cancerous… Here, we can replace a defective gene, and it’s like reprogramming a computer in the cancer cells.”