Gene therapy is one of the most promising new areas of research in cancer treatment.
Unlike other therapies, DNA itself is used as the means of treatment.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the very long molecule that encodes our genetic information. Genes are units of DNA that carry the information required to make proteins — the building blocks of our bodies. People have about 100,000 genes that control all of the cell functions in the body.
Researchers at the UPMC Liver Cancer Center are investigating gene therapy for its potential to treat primary and metastatic liver tumors.
In some cases, the gene delivered will encode for a protein that will directly attack the cancer. In other cases, the gene may boost the patient’s own immune system to help fight off the cancer.
Some genes are delivered by packaging them into inactive viruses that help the gene to get inside the cancer cells. In other cases, the virus itself may destroy the cancer without damaging the normal liver tissue.
For unresectable colon cancer metastases confined to the liver, the UPMC Liver Cancer Center recently completed a gene therapy clinical trial in which a novel virus was injected into the liver, followed by regional chemotherapy to enhance the tumor destruction. A follow-up trial is being planned.