New Nonviral Gene Therapy System Could Help Fight Cancer

ATHENS, Ohio -- Researchers at Ohio University have invented a nonviral gene therapy system that could aid scientists in the search for a better treatment for cancer. The invention has received U.S. Patent No. 5,591,601, which was issued today to Ohio University.

The system, developed by scientists in the university's Edison Biotechnology Institute, allows genes to be expressed outside the nucleus of a cell, making it easier for scientists to get disease-fighting genes into tumor cells.

Scientists have successfully used the T7T7 gene therapy system, commonly referred to as T7, to express genes in cell cultures and in mouse models, said Thomas E. Wagner, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Ohio University and an inventor of the T7 system.

"We have expressed more than 30 different types of genes using the T7 system, including genes that promote anti-cancer activity," Wagner said.

The T7 vector gene therapy system is unique because it is a nonviral system that works in the cytoplasm of a cell, Wagner said. Other gene therapy techniques work in the nucleus, making them less effective in gene delivery.

Another difference between T7 and current gene therapy techniques is that genes expressed using this method are transient and do not become part of the cell's chromosomes. The genes dissipate in a few weeks to a month.

"For treatment of genetic birth defects, permanent gene therapy might be the method of choice," Wagner said. "But to repair or destroy diseased cells, it's not necessary to change the body's genetic makeup permanently. The T7 system is a means to deliver a gene product or drug into a patient without that gene becoming part of the body's genetic machinery."

While the gene therapy system could be used to express any gene, Wagner and other researchers are particularly interested in its cancer-fighting abilities.

Cancer cells divide rapidly, and current gene therapy techniques can be

Contact: Kelli Whitlock
Ohio University

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