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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 01:09 GMT
Breast cancer 'suicide gene' hope
Breast scan
Fresh hope for breast cancer treatment
Suicide genes which attach themselves to cancer cells and then self-destruct could provide a treatment for breast cancer.

The potential treatment, being developed by British scientists, could target advanced breast cancer, which has a very high mortality rate.

It's like using a combination of antibiotics to attack infection

Professor Nicholas Lemoine
The "mix and match" method of using a combination of the suicide genes to target the cancer has been shown to be successful in 11 out of 12 cases in an initial study, researchers say.

A team led by Professor Nicholas Lemoine, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, introduced plasmids containing suicide genes into breast cancer tissue.

Once in the cancerous cells, the suicide genes are activated by the cells' own DNA control mechanisms, known as their transcription.

The suicide genes respond only to the type of transcription found in tumour cells and then selectively kill cancerous cells.

Professor Lemoine said: "The suicide genes come into the tumour via a kind of Trojan Horse. They are harmless when introduced, but once inside, the cancer's own control systems trigger the selective destruction.

'First phase'

"By using a combination of these suicide genes, we can maximise the effect without losing specificity. It's like using a combination of antibiotics to attack infection."

He now hopes to extend the work to cover liver and ovarian cancer, but admitted the research is several years away from producing a workable cancer therapy.

It is predicted that some gene therapies for cancer will be available next year.

Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "This is a potentially interesting application of genetic research.

"Obviously it is only the first phase of a long study. We need further research before we will see how it may translate to clinical benefit to women with breast cancer."

Professor Lemoine presented his research to the British Endocrine Societies meeting in Birmingham.

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