A Trojan horse for breast cancer
1 March 2011
An artificial molecule that can "trick" its way into cancer
cells to deliver a self-destruct gene has been developed by scientists
from the UK and USA.
Dr Helen McCarthy from Queen’s University Belfast and colleagues
attached a gene to an engineered molecule called a Designer
Biomimetic Vector (DBV) allowing it to be delivered straight into
breast cancer cells in the laboratory.
The gene called iNOS, is targeted specifically to breast cancer
cells using the DBV where it forces the cells to produce poisonous
nitric oxide; either killing the cells outright or making them more
vulnerable to being destroyed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. As
this approach leaves normal healthy breast cells unaffected, this
would overcome many of the toxic side effects of current treatments.
Further investigation is needed but it could be trialled in
patients in as little as five years. Dr McCarthy’s next step is to
turn the DBV-gene nanoparticles into a dried powder that could be
easily transported and reconstituted before being given to patients.
The research was published in the International Journal of
Dr McCarthy said: “A major stumbling block to using gene therapy
in the past has been the lack of an effective delivery system.
Combining the Designer Biomimetic Vector with the iNOS gene has
proved successful in killing breast cancer cells in the laboratory.
In the long term, I see this being used to treat people with
metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the bones, ideally
administered before radiotherapy and chemotherapy.”
Dr Lisa Wilde, Research Information Senior Manager, 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."
1. Helen McCarthy, Alek Zholobenko, Yuhua Wang, Brenda Canine,
Tracy Robson, David Hirst and Arash Hatefi. Evaluation of a
multi-functional nanocarrier for targeted breast cancer iNOS gene
therapy. International Journal of Pharmaceutics. Volume
405, Issues 1-2, 28 February 2011, Pages 196-202.