Cancer set to become treatable: expert

Posted: March 4, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Advances in gene therapy and the deepening understanding of cancer will see the oft-fatal disease becoming treatable in two decades, said cancer researcher Inder M. Varma.

Cancer mutations are being exposed cancer is in retreat through a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, molecular and genetic therapy, cancer will become a chronic disease rather than a terminal one, said Dr. Verma, a professor in Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, at the Infosys Science Foundation Lecture at the National Centre for Biological Sciences here on Wednesday.

His optimism was elaborated through an intriguing cat-and-mouse game that played out for over five years of research into the Glioblastomas multiforme (GBM), a lethal form of brain cancer that kills the patient within 14 months.

Understanding GBM was critical as relapse, even after surgery or treatment, was certainty, said Prof. Verma.

The researchers at the Salk Institute developed a novel genetic technique to switch on genes in around five cells of a mouse brain to make them into cancer cells. The cells grew to all parts of the brain, but more importantly, they started to exhibit stem cell characteristics, said Dr. Verma.

Unlike the normal cell, a stem cell can divide into specialised cells a phenomenon that explains the resurgent ability of the GBM cancer. Even if you surgically remove the tumour, one cell is enough to recreate the cancer again, he explained.

Using gene therapy, the team of scientists attempted to block this ability as well as use drugs to block blood supply to the cancer cell. While the tumour did become smaller, it became even more invasive. Though the treatment did not work, the cancer cell did reveal the genes responsible for its invasiveness.

We began to genetically cut out the cancers invasiveness, and for the first time, experiments showed GBM cancer could be controlled This is an exciting area that can be possibly used to treat other forms of cancer, said Dr. Verma.

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Cancer set to become treatable: expert

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