UT Southwestern Study Uses Common Cold Virus For Gene Therapy To Treat Head And Neck Cancers

DALLAS -- Patients with advanced head and neck cancer that hasn't improved with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy may benefit from an experimental therapy available at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Physicians in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology have begun injecting a genetically altered adenovirus, one of the viruses that cause the common cold, directly into the tumors of patients with head and neck cancer in an attempt to kill the cancer cells but preserve normal ones.

The unconventional treatment has slowed tumor growth in studies involving cell cultures and a mouse model. Now UT Southwestern is one of a handful of sites nationwide trying to measure how well human tumors respond to the treatment. The findings will help researchers decide whether to expand the study to a more widespread clinical trial.

"For this study, we are treating head-and-neck-cancer patients who have really exhausted their other options," said Dr. Carol Bier-Laning, assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology. "The goal is to gather information for the future, though the patients may improve. We have seen patients who have little or no response to the treatment, and we have seen some results that are very encouraging."

The therapy is based on understanding the role of the p53 gene, a tumor suppressor that responds to damage in a cell's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) by activating either a pathway that halts cell division until the DNA damage has been repaired or a pathway to apoptosis, or cell suicide. But half of human cancers -- and the majority of head and neck cancers -- have mutated p53 genes that are ineffective.

"We inject the tumor with an adenovirus that contains p53 that has been genetically engineered so it cannot replicate," said Bier-Laning, a co-principal investigator for the study at UT Southwestern. "The virus spits DNA into the cell, and the cell takes it up and begins producing the p53 gene. The hypothesis is that if we give the cells normal

Contact: Kris Mullen
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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