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Cell studies may further gene therapy prospects for head and neck cancer

CHAPEL HILL - New laboratory research at the University of North Carolina appears to kindle prospects of finding ways to treat head and neck cancer with gene therapy.

The study published November 20 in the journal Human Gene Therapy suggests that gene therapy techniques may be developed to preferentially target cancer cells or pre-cancerous cells that are at high risk for becoming malignant.

"Right now there's no clinical application of our work in human gene therapy, but findings from our tissue culture model suggest there may be," said Wendell G. Yarbrough, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at UNC-CH School of Medicine and Hospitals.

The Carolina researcher, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said he and his collaborators developed a tissue culture system that mimicked how normal cells grow in the body. Using cultured cells, they created models that mimicked the three-dimensional structure of head and neck epithelium, the normal tissue that lines the inside of humans' mouths and throats. This allowed a more realistic investigation of a widely studied gene transfer technique that uses a common cold virus - adenovirus - to infect cells and deliver therapeutic payloads.

"If you take cells out of the body and put them in tissue culture, they typically grow as a monolayer, one cell layer thick," Yarbrough explained. "But that's not the way they are in the body. These can be infected by adenoviruses very easily. "But if you let cells start piling up on each other and differentiating the way they do in the body, then it's very hard to infect them."

Now it appears that the reason for that is linked to whether or not the cells show gene expression of a specific protein, a receptor site known as hCAR, human coxsackie and adenovirus receptor.

"And that's what we found. We correlated the ability of cells to be infected by adenovirus with the expression of hCAR, a receptor
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Contact: Leslie Lang
llang@med.unc.edu
919-843-9687
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
19-Nov-2000


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