Queensland University researchers have ventured into a new approach called 'gene silencing' for the treatment of cervical cancer. The technique is targeted towards turning the cancer causing genes on and off to help cervical cancer patients.
Certain genes called tumor suppressor genes are responsible for preventing the occurrence of a particular type of cancer. On the other hand, tumor-promoting genes help in the initiation and progression of tumor. A logical way to combat tumor is to either turn on the tumor suppressor genes or turn off the tumor promoting genes.
Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women aged 25-50 worldwide. Infection with the human papilloma virus is regarded to be a causative factor in cervical cancer as it results in the over-production of two viral cancer-causing genes called E6 and E7.
The researchers were successful in killing the cervical cancer cells by turning of the production of these genes in cancer cells. Furthermore, gene silencing was found to enhance the effect of chemotherapy by up to four times.
One main advantage of this approach is that the normal cells remain unaffected during manipulation, as the main target is the viral gene. The researchers hope to exploit this form of treatment to all forms of cervical cancer including the premalignant lesions picked up by the pap smear and especially for advanced cervical cancers where the cancer has moved to other sites such as the lung or liver.
The current results have been demonstrated in cervical cancer cell lines grown in test tubes. The next step is to achieve the same desired effect in animal models. If successful, the next stage of research will focus on the development of materials for human trials to allow proper delivery of the drug to patients and to investigate whether other cancer types can be treated this way.
Although the trials are under an experimental phase, if successful, it can turn out to be an advanced form of the currently existing treatment options such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. At the least, a cancer-specific treatment for advanced cervical cancers would be arrived at either alone or in combination with existing treatments.