Thus far, Li's treatment has succeeded in pre-clinical trials on tumors in mice. Now he is using his method to treat larger animals, such as dogs, before seeking approval for human trials.
Li's research focuses on electroporation and cytokine gene therapy in cancer treatment. Electroporation involves injecting a therapeutic gene, or "tumor killer" gene, directly into the tumor. Then, an electric pulse is applied for less than one second. This process is repeated two to three times until the tumor is eradicated. Cytokine treatment, the next step in the therapy, involves the induction of "immuno-memory" into the patient. This allows the body to "remember" the particular type of cancer that it had and effectively vaccinates the patient against it.
"The treatment kills the tumor and helps the body develop a long-term, anti-tumor memory, which means that it becomes resistant to the tumor," explained Li.
Thus far, Li who is collaborating with Dr. G. Neal Mauldin, director of the Vet School's Cancer Treatment Unit has treated one dog, who was suffering from several cancerous tumors in and around its mouth. Li said that the dog was in very bad shape, but the treatment was largely a success. The dog's two smaller tumors were eliminated by the treatment, and about one third of the larger, more advanced tumor was eliminated. Unfortunately, the large tumor's size and location was inhibiting the dog's ability to eat and drink and the owner decided to have it put to sleep.
Li's work has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. In order to continue treating larger animals, Li is now seeking additional funding from the NIH and the American Cancer Society.