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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK


Cutting edge combination to beat cancer

Powerful gene therapy will be delivered direct to the tumour

Two of the world's leading medical scientists are combining their expertise to try and produce the latest in cancer treatment.

BBC News' Abeer Parkes reports on a leap forward in cancer treatment
And their methods could greatly reduce the debilitating side-effects that are suffered by patients given conventional chemotherapy treatment.

Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri, a pioneer of keyhole surgery techniques, believes that he can help Professor David Lane by delivering his revolutionary gene therapies precisely to tumours in the human body.

Among his innovations is a "poison umbrella" - a miniature injector the size of a matchhead, which, when pushed into the tumour, opens up to inject several sites at once, leading to the destruction of the entire tumour within weeks.

Professor Cuschieri told the BBC: "If we take an ordinary needle you can only inject along the line of the needle, so you need to go several times and this increases the risks and the complication. "The development of a multi-point injector was precisely to overcome this problem."

A new university department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology is to be created at the University of Dundee, funded by the results of a £4m fundraising campaign.

The new centre will house around 60 scientists who will start intensive trials of new therapies.

At present, even if the cancer is located in just one spot, chemotherapy treatments can affect the entire body and only a fraction of the dose arrives at and attacks the tumour.

Drug delivery route

[ image: The latest surgical techniques will be used]
The latest surgical techniques will be used
Sophisticated imaging equipment at the university will help doctors pinpoint exactly where a malignant tumour is situated.

Then a tiny access to the cancer will be opened up by Sir Alfred's team, and the treatment applied in a concentrated form.

The "drug delivery route" will be left open after the surgery so repeated doses can be given.

Sir Alfred said: "One of the great problems with today's cancer treatments is the dreadful side effects suffered by patients due to the "blunderbuss" rather than "sniper" approach to targetting diseased cells.

"The techniques of minimal access surgery and advanced imaging which we have developed in Dundee will permit application of new treatments directly to the tumour, thus potentially greatly reducing side effects."

The tool Professor Lane hopes to use to treat cancer cells is a protein called "P53", which, in normal cells, prevents them growing out of control - but which is absent in tumour cells.

Professor Lane discovered the gene which controls the production of P53.

He said: "In the laboratory when we introduce these proteins back into tumour cells we can show dramatic curative effects."

Professor Gordon McVie, Director General Of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "I am confident that this very exciting partnership between scientist and surgeon will help put the brakes on cancer."

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