Survival rate improved 5 to 20% in prostate cancer patients when both treatments were used together, which is significantly higher than conventional methods.
Researchers have found that ‘suicide gene therapy’ in combination with chemotherapy can successfully kill prostate tumor cells.
Suicide gene therapy is a technique which genetically modifies prostate cancer cells and allows them to self-destruct as it triggers the body’s immune system to attack them.
Researchers at Houston Methodist Hospital recruited 66 prostate cancer patients for a clinical trial between 1999 and 2003. Patients were divided into two groups. Less severe cases received only radiotherapy whereas patients with more aggressive prostate cancer were treated with a combination of both radiation and hormonal therapy.
The five-year long clinical trial found high survival rate in both groups, 97% in less severe cases and 94% in severe cases. Overall 5 to 20% improvement in survival was reported after five years of treatment which is significantly higher than current procedures.
Researchers used an adenovirus, the virus known to cause common cold, to deliver herpes virus gene into the tumor cells and to produce enzyme thymidine kinase (TK) for modifying cancer cells.
“Once the herpes virus gene was delivered and it started manufacturing TK, we gave patients a commonly used anti-herpes drug, valacyclovir. The combination attacked the herpes DNA, and the TK-producing tumor cells self-destructed, which is why the procedure is called ‘suicide gene therapy.’ Co-author Brian Butler said in a statement.
When the anti-herpes drug activates and starts to devastate the tumor cell, it alerts the body’s immune system too, that was previously unaware of the presence of the prostate cancer and launches a massive attack.
The study suggests that the combo of gene therapy and radiotherapy worked better in prostate cancer patients compared to radiotherapy alone and it could be a good alternate to conventional methods that are being applied currently.
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“This is extremely pleasing to us, considering we had patients enrolled in our protocol after other physicians deemed them incurable,” said Bin Teh, lead author of the study. “We firmly believe this will be a viable treatment strategy.”