Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have shown that they can deliver a gene directly into breast cancer cells causing them to self-destruct, using an innovative, miniscule gene transport system, according to research published today (28 February) in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.
Using a transport system called a Designer Biomimetic Vector (DBV), Dr Helen McCarthy, from Queen’s School of Pharmacy, funded by Breast Cancer Campaign, packaged a gene into a nanoparticle 400 times smaller than the width of a human hair, 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 nanoparticles into a dried powder that could be easily transported and reconstituted before being given to patients.
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.”
Media enquiries to Claire Learner, Media Relations Officer, Breast Cancer Campaign, 00 44 (0)20 7749 3705, [email protected] M: 07736 313698
or Queen’s University Communications Office, 00 44 (0)28 9097 3087/3091, email [email protected]
Notes to editors
- Breast Cancer Campaign aims to beat breast cancer by funding innovative world-class research to understand how breast cancer develops, leading to improved diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure
- The charity currently funds 84 projects worth almost £16 million in 31 locations across the UK and Ireland
- Breast Cancer Campaign currently funds research worth £1.3 million in Belfast.
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and accounts for nearly one in three of all cancers in women
- In the UK, around 48,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year – that’s 130 a day
- Visit breastcancercampaign.org or follow us at twitter.com/bccampaign