Recently, researchers have combined chemo and suicide gene therapy to get rid of prostate cancer by killing tumor cells.
- The treatment has up to 20 percent better results than the traditional one
- A herpes virus gene helps killing the tumor cells
- The combo makes the immune system of the body more alert
‘Suicide gene therapy’ probably sounds at least a bit peculiar to you. This type of therapy is used to modify genes. Although the name makes you thing the therapy is killing cells, it is actually modifying the tumor cells to make the immune system of the body more alert and to attack them.
Between 1999 and 2003, a team from Houston Methodist Hospital used a combination of this suicide gene therapy and chemotherapy to treat 66 patients with prostate cancer. Based on how advanced their cancer was the patients were divided into two groups. The people in the group with less severe problems were treated only with chemo, whereas the other group received both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.
In combination with the above treatment, the patients also received the ‘suicide gene therapy’. Depending on the severity of the case, they received this gene therapy twice or three times during the study.
The combo seems to have worked, as the survival rate registered was above 90 percent. More precisely, the group of patients with less severe cancer had a survival rate of 97 percent, while the other group had a 94 percent rate of survival, which is still incredibly good.
Compared to the usual treatment for prostate cancer, this new combo-therapy shows 5 to 20 percent better results. This means, the chances of survival for patients with prostate cancer are a lot higher if they receive this treatment.
If you’re still puzzled by the ‘suicide’ part, here’s how the therapy works. The cells are manipulated using viruses. Firstly, an adenovirus, the type of virus that makes us catch a cold, is used to introduce into the cells a sort of herpes virus gene. The herpes immediately starts creating TK, so the patients then receive valacyclovir, which is an anti-herpes drug. This combo attack the DNA of the herpes which makes the tumor cells to self-destruct, or in other words to commit suicide.
This also triggers an alert for the immune system that senses the tumor cells and starts doing its job of protecting our body.
The chemo and suicide gene therapy is a success as it cured patients who were previously given no change of recovery or survival and therefore it will probably start to be used instead of the traditional treatment.
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