Thursday, 2 August 2018


India currently has approximately 2.5 Million people living with cancer and is the world’s 3rd highest cancer cases amongst women with abysmal survival rates. The usual brand of treatment involving chemotherapy and radiation therapy while with reduced side effects still includes mouth sores, acute and delayed nausea, and mild cognitive impairments. Chemotherapy might even make a patient more susceptible to certain other types of cancer. The treatment for metastatic prostate cancer might cause impotence, hot flashes, incontinence and an increase risk of fractures.

Among the various alternative treatment programs under development, there is one in particular that grabs attention- Gene Therapy.

Gene therapy is focusing on augmenting the current treatment patterns by majorly taking three broad routes: Immunotherapy, Oncolytic Agents (engineered viruses), Gene Transfer.

Immunotherapy works on the basic principle of making the cancer cells detectable to the immune system. This is done in two ways:

Cancer vaccines and modifying the immune system directly. Cancer vaccines train the immune system to identify cancer cells by exposing it to  highly antigenic and immune stimulatory cell debris. The latter approach directly sensitizes the immune system towards causing an immune response against cancer cells.

Initial first generation vaccines produced in the immunotherapy research have produced mixed results showing both the potential and the way left to cover. Current vaccines using engineered cells have shown a positive response to many types of cancers that do not respond to conventional treatment.
Oncolytic Agents are engineered viruses that have been specially modified to attack cancer cells and leave the normal cells unaffected. These viruses infect the cancer cells and lead to cell death via propagation of the virus.

Trails demonstrate unique prowess and obstacles in the use of this particular brand of treatment. While mammalian models have worked remarkably well showing success in even immunocompromised dogs, a major issue with using this treatment for humans is that most humans possess immunity against the common viruses used and their body filters the virus out before the treatment has even had a chance to take effect.

Gene Transfer, however, is probably the most exciting and trending area for research. It focuses on getting a foreign gene into the cancer cell or the surrounding gene. These genes vary from suicide genes to cellular stasis genes. A large variety of viral vectors have been used to introduce genes into the cells.

Currently Gene Transfer is the only gene therapy product to achieve regulatory approval as demonstrated by China’s Gendicine.

The field is growing and new avenues are being explored everyday. With scientists leaving no stone unturned, Gene therapy might soon become a part of the regular treatment for cancer.

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