Many types of cancers are now treated effectively but glioma, a form of brain cancer beginning in glial cells, has a low survival rate and is extremely difficult to treat. Drugs and radiation therapy have proved largely ineffective but as knowledge has expanded, genes that kill or suppress tumour growth have been uncovered which, if somehow delivered into the tissue, could destroy cancerous populations. Viral delivery carries a number of significant risks however and so researchers have been searching for another method of transport to deliver these genetic blueprints.
In new research a nanoparticle delivery system has been developed with great effect, carrying genes for an enzyme which converts the prodrug Ganciclovir into a powerful, tumour melting drug. By injecting these polymer structure carrying DNA and applying a pressure gradient, the molecules were able to spread throughout the tumour effectively.
“Efforts to treat glioma with traditional drug and radiation therapies have not been very successful,” says Jessica Tucker, Ph.D., NIBIB Director for the Program in Gene and Drug Delivery Systems and Devices. “The ability to successfully deliver genes using these biodegradable nanoparticles, rather than potentially harmful viruses, is a significant step that reinvigorates the potential for gene therapy to treat deadly gliomas as well as other cancers.”
Application of both ganciclovir and the introduction of genes to convert it into a cancer killing form proved extremely potent at destroying the glioma. Whilst research has not yet been conducted on human patients, the technique provides proof of concept and could become a powerful breakthrough.