A Houston Methodist Hospital team of researchers tweaked prostate cancer cells to go suicidal and alert the patient’s immune system to target them. According to a comprehensive clinical trial, the method does work and it could soon be fostered as a rapid one-two punch solution to the condition.
According to the study, which was published Saturday in the Journal of Radiation Oncology, patients that underwent the new therapy, dubbed suicide gene therapy, had survival rates of up to 97 percent over the course of five years, which means that the treatment may boost their chances of survival by five to 20 percent.
Prostate cancer patients involved in the trial were monitored between 1999 and 2003. The 66 participants were divided into two groups. The first group received standard radiotherapy, while the second group which consisted in patients with a more aggressive form of the disease were given both radiotherapy and hormonal therapy.
The first group underwent suicide gene therapy twice in five years, while the second group was given the gene therapy one time more.
Dr. E. Brian Butler, lead author of the study and head of the HMH’s Radiation Oncology department, explained how the experimental therapy works. Researchers used a gene from a herpes virus and glued it to a carrier, which is a flue-like virus. When the herpes gene penetrates prostate cancer cells it releases an enzyme called thymidine kinase.
Once the enzyme was released, patients were given anti-herpes medication which prompted the immune system to attack the herpes gene thus forcing prostate cancer cells laden with the enzyme to self-destruct.
In short, the team was able to design a therapy that fights the disease with the patient’s own material, making the treatment less invasive than radiation and other therapies.
The results of the trial were promising. About 91 percent of patients in the first group, and 94 percent in the second group experienced no cancer recurrence over the course of five years. Two years following the experimental therapy, the biopsies of 83 percent of group 1 members and 79 percent of group 2 members were negative.
This is a boost of up to 20 percent in survival rates as compared with rates linked to radiation therapy. Dr. Bin Teh, senior researcher involved in the study, noted that the results are ‘pleasing’ to the research team especially since many participants were told that their condition was incurable.
The team has high hopes that the newly found method would one day become a viable treatment strategy.
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