Gene therapy | Cancer in general | Cancer Research UK

Posted: September 26, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Gene therapy is a type ofbiological therapy for cancer that is still in the early stages of research.

Genes are coded messages that tell cells how to make proteins. Proteins are the molecules that control the way cells behave. Our genes decide what we look like and how our body works.We have many thousands of separate genes.

Genes are made ofDNAand they are in the nucleus of the cell. The nucleus is the cell’s control centre.Genes are grouped together to make chromosomes. We inherit half our chromosomes from our mother and half from our father.

Cancer cells are different from normal cells. They have changes (called faults or mutations) in several of their genes which make them divide too often and form a tumour. The genes that are damaged mightbe:

Many gene changes that may make a cell become cancerous are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors, such as smoking.

Some people have inherited faulty genes that increase their risk of particular types of cancer. Inherited damaged genes cause between 2 and 3 in every 100 (2% to 3%) of cancers.

Gene therapy is a type of treatment which uses genes to treat illnesses. Researchers have been developing differenttypes of gene therapyto treat cancer.

The ideas for these new treatments have come about because we are beginning to understand how cancer cells are different from normal cells. It is stillearly days for this type of treatment. Some of these treatments are being looked at in clinical trials. Otherscan now be used for some people with types of cancer such as melanoma skin cancer.

Getting genes into cancer cells is one of the most difficult aspects of gene therapy. Researchers are working on finding new and better ways of doing this. The gene is usually taken into the cancer cell by a carrier called a vector.

The most common types of carrier used in gene therapy are viruses because they can enter cells and deliver genetic material. The viruses have been changed so that they cannot cause serious disease but they may still cause mild, flu like symptoms.

Some viruses have been changed in the laboratory so that they target cancer cells and not healthy cells. So they only carry the gene into cancer cells.

Researchers are testing other types of carrier such as inactivated bacteria.

Researchers are looking at different ways of using gene therapy:

Some types of gene therapy aim to boost the body’s natural ability to attack cancer cells. Ourimmune systemhas cells that recognise and kill harmful things that can cause disease, such as cancer cells.

There are many different types of immune cell. Some of them produce proteins that encourage other immune cells to destroy cancer cells. Some types of therapy add genes to a patient’s immune cells. Thismakes them better at finding or destroying particular types of cancer.

There are a few trials using this type of gene therapy in the UK.

Some gene therapies put genes into cancer cells to make the cells more sensitive to particular treatments. The aim is to make treatments,such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, work better.

Some types of gene therapy deliver genes into the cancer cells that allow the cells to change drugs from an inactive form to an active form. The inactive form of the drug is called a pro drug.

First of all you have treatment with the the carrier containing the gene, then you havethe pro drug.The pro drug circulates in the body and doesn’t harm normal cells. But when it reaches the cancer cells, it is activated by the gene and the drug kills the cancer cells.

Some gene therapies block processes that cancer cells use to survive. For example, most cells in the body are programmed to die if their DNA is damaged beyond repair. This is called programmed cell death or apoptosis. Cancer cells block this process so they don’t die even when they are supposed to.

Some gene therapy strategies aim to reverse this blockage. Doctors hope these new types of treatment will make the cancer cells die.

Some viruses infect and kill cells. Researchers are working on ways to change these viruses so they only target and kill cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone.

This sort of treatment uses the viruses to kill cancer cells directly rather than to deliver genes. So it is not cancer gene therapy in the true sense of the word. But doctors sometimes refer to it as gene therapy.

A drug called T-VEC (talimogene laherparepvec)isnowavailable as a treatmentfor melanoma skin cancer. It isalso calledImlygic. It is also being looked at in trials for other types of cancer, such as head and neck cancer.

T-VEC uses a strain of the cold sore virus (herpes simplex virus)that been changed by altering the genes that tell the virus how to behave. It tells the virus to destroy the cancer cells and ignore the healthy cells.

T-VEC can beused to treatsome people with melanoma skin cancer whose cancer cannot be removed with surgery. You have T-VEC as an injectiondirectly into yourmelanoma.

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Gene therapy | Cancer in general | Cancer Research UK

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