July 12, 2007
Gene Therapy Promising Against Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer-causing genetic mutations are best fixed with new genetic programming.

A molecularly engineered therapy selectively embeds a gene in pancreatic cancer that shrinks or eradicates tumors, inhibits metastasis, and prolongs survival with virtually no toxicity, researchers from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center report in the July 9 edition of Cancer Cell.

"This vehicle, or vector, is so targeted and robust in its cancer-specific expression that it can be used for therapy and perhaps for imaging," notes senior author Mien-Chie Hung, Ph.D., professor and chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology.

The researchers call the system a versatile expression vector - nicknamed VISA. It includes a targeting agent, also called a promoter, two components that boost gene expression in the target tissue, and a payload - in this case a gene known to kill cancer cells. It's all packaged in a fatty ball called a liposome and delivered intravenously.

Researchers are working with M. D. Anderson clinicians to move the system, developed and tested in mouse models of pancreatic cancer, to a Phase I clinical trial.

Future gene therapies will become much more complex and sophisticated. We will likely witness the development of multi-gene gene therapies that are akin to complex computer programs. When injected into each cell the genes and their protein products will sense whether the cell is cancerous and only kill or reprogram cancer cells.

Currently pancreatic cancer is highly lethal.

About 37,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. Early diagnosis is extremely difficult, so the disease is often discovered at a late stage after it already has spread, or metastasized. Fewer than 4 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis, one of the lowest cancer survival rates.

Those horrible odds show why pancreatic cancer patients ought to have the right to try experimental gene therapies without waiting for government approval for therapies. Given a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer I'd want to try any sort of experimental gene therapy or other experimental therapy. With so little time left to live the downsides would be small.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 12 06:42 PM  Biotech Cancer

Brock said at July 12, 2007 7:46 PM:

This is also why it so important for single-protein sensors to become cheap and widely available. Ordinary cancer therapies would be much more effective if the cancer were caught earlier. The all-purpose home medical sensor that can detect minute changes in your body's chemistry (perhaps by analyzing a spit of saliva each morning) will be one of the greatest life-savers ever invented.

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