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Cancer gene therapy news backgrounder: New ideas fuel next generation gene therapy research

n, is the first to test a preventive cancer strategy using a novel gene therapy, says Clayman. He believes that while other forms of gene therapy have shown suggestions of clinical activity, "translation to clinical utility may not be there. We need to focus on the limited ways in which gene therapy may truly help patients."

Gene therapy for metastasis

Others at M. D. Anderson heartily agree that most of the current gene therapy strategies do not effectively address the thorniest problem in cancer care - treating cancer that has spread - and that is why they are breaking new research ground.

One team has already harnessed the power of stem cells to act as seek-and-destroy missiles that can find cancer wherever it hides out - at least, so far, in animals.

This novel treatment, which was presented last year at a scientific meeting, takes advantage of the fact that tumors attract a certain kind of stem cell, mesenchymal progenitor cells (MSC), which acts as the body's natural tissue regenerators. These unspecialized cells migrate to an injury by responding to signals from the area, and there they develop the kind of connective tissue that is needed to repair the wound, and can become any kind of tissue required.

But they also respond to tumors - often described as "never healing wounds" - which "call" the stem cells to help build up normal tissue that is needed to support the cancer.

So a research team led by Michael Andreeff, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Departments of Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Leukemia, is turning the tables on the cancer.

In experiments in mice, they have removed a small amount of MSC from bone marrow, expanded the quantity in the laboratory, and genetically altered the stem cells to carry a therapeutic gene. When given back to the mice through an intravenous injection, the millions of engineered stem cells home in on cancer cells that are signaling them, engraft and activate
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Contact: Nancy Jensen
nwjensen@mdanderson.org
713-792-0655
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
5-May-2004


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