Gene therapy forces breast cancer to self-destruct

Most people think of gene therapy as a method of introducing normal genetic material to replace something that's flawed. But researchers at Queen's University in Belfast have destruction on their minds. They introduced a gene into breast cancer cells that basically instructs the cell to self-destruct.

Helen McCarthy, of Queen's School of Pharmacy, thinks she's solved a long-standing problem in gene therapy--finding the right way to deliver genes. She used a transport system called a Designer Biomimetic Vector (DBV), wrapped it all into a nanoparticle and delivered the package into breast cancer cells grown in a lab.

The gene she used is called iNOS, which forces breast cancer cells to produce poisonous nitric oxide. That will either kill the cells right away or make them more vulnerable to destruction through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This method, according to the researchers, leaves healthy breast cells alone and only targets cancer cells for destruction.

"In the long term, I see this being used to treat people with metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the bones, ideally administered before radiotherapy and chemotherapy," McCarthy said in a statement.

- read the release from Queen's University Belfast