A collaborative medical research team has developed a targeted gene therapy that kills breast cancer stem cells, reducing the chances of recurrence and also increasing the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapy, a Taiwanese researcher involved in the study said yesterday.
The scientists developed an innovative delivery system (C-VISA) of delivering the BikDD — a modified gene that triggers cell suicide — directly to the breast cancer cell or other targeted cancer cells, to eliminate the cancer cells without harming healthy cells, said Hung Mien-chie (洪明奇), a chair professor at China Medical University Hospital’s Center for Molecular Medicine and professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology.
“We can find a way to beat cancer if we know how to kill cancer stem cells,” he told a press conference held by the National Science Council, a financial supporter of the long-term project.
Hung said chemotherapy and radiotherapy kill non-cancerous cells along with cancer cells, causing harmful side effects.
A major obstacle of cancer treatment is that cancer stem cells are often resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, causing difficulties in curing patients from relapsed cancer, he said.
Using “firing missiles” as a figure of speech, Hung said the team developed a missile launching system that can accurately fire at “the target” (cancer cells) they aim for, and the “missile” includes a targeting agent and the bomb (BikDD) — wrapped in fatty balls called liposomes, delivered through intravenous injections.
The target therapy method proved very effective in eliminating pancreatic cancer cells in mice, as well as killing breast cancer stem cells, Hung said.
The combination of VISA-Claudin4-BikDD target therapy (for reducing breast cancer stem cells) with chemotherapy drugs such as lapatinib in lab experiments have also shown increased effectiveness in treating certain types of breast cancer, Hung added.
He said the next step would be to launch clinical trials within two years so that the effects can be tested on humans.