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New gene therapy could 'stop growth' of breast cancer tumours

Researchers say that a new type of gene therapy could be used to target cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.

Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke/PA Images

A NEW STRATEGY for breast cancer treatment using gene therapy could stop the growth of cancer tumours, according to researchers.

New research funded by the Irish Cancer Society at the Cork Cancer Research Centre has revealed that delivering beneficial human genes by means of a virus to breast cancer tumour cells causes genes to generate signals within the tumour to cut off its blood supply and stop its growth.

The collaborative research initiative, led by Dr Mark Tangney and his team at University College Cork (UCC), has been investigating the use of gene therapy for breast cancer treatment since 2008.

The team says that the new type of gene therapy is novel because it uses genes from humans – rather than from viruses -resulting in “significantly longer lasting therapy”.  Although still in its infancy, the therapy targets breast cancer tumour cells without harming healthy cells – which is the ultimate aim for all cancer treatments.

Tangney said that Irish and international studies on gene therapy are showing “significant progress”, and estimated that this type of treatment could be made available worldwide within the next decade:

Over the last century, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been used in combination with surgery to improve the survival rates of cancer patients. However, our research in the area of gene therapy highlights how we can ‘tell’ a tumour to cause its own destruction, without damaging healthy cells.

He said that the team were “delighted” to have advanced a new type of potential treatment for breast cancer using the pioneering gene therapy, which posed significantly less toxicity and more efficacy than existing treatments.

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Professor John Fitzpatrick, Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society said that one in eleven women in Ireland will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, and noted that the Irish Cancer Society invested €3.1 million in cancer research, of which €700,000 is being directed towards breast cancer research.

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