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New gene treatment for breast cancer developed

7 March 2011
Appeared in BioNews 598

Scientists at Queen's University, Belfast, have developed a new targeted gene therapy for the treatment of breast cancer.

Dubbed the 'magic pill', Dr Helen McCarthy and her team were able to package an iNOS gene into an artificial protein shell nanoparticle called a designer biomimetic vector (DBV).

The protein is able to be delivered to the cancer cells and the iNOS gene switches on production of nitric oxide (NO). At low levels, NO has a protective effect on organs, but at higher sustained amounts NO becomes toxic and can result in direct tissue damage. Dr McCarthy spent the last 10 years studying the powerful anti-cancer action of nitric oxide. 'We have shown huge anti-tumour effects but hadn't been able to get a targeting system', he said.

The unique delivery mechanism of the gene means healthy cells remain unaffected giving this treatment a distinct advantage over traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can both affect healthy cells simultaneously.

The Belfast team is now working to develop a stable dry powder that can be reconstituted and injected into the patient. 'The idea is this will be delivered systemically around the body and be delivered to the other tumours', Dr McCarthy said. The university said further investigation of the system was needed, but that the treatment could be trialled in patients in five years.

Dr Lisa Wilde, of the Breast Cancer Campaign, said: 'Gene therapy could potentially be an exciting avenue for treating breast cancer. Although at an early stage, Dr McCarthy's laboratory research shows that this system for delivering toxic genes to tumour cells holds great promise and we look forward to seeing how it is translated into patients'.

This work was funded by the Breast Cancer Campaign and was published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

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