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Combined treatment could help treat advanced breast cancer

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Cellular therapy combined with gene therapy appears to be the future treatment of advanced cancer. According to an article recently published in Clinical Cancer Research, the combined treatment consisting of cellular therapy and gene therapy shows promise in curing breast cancer with brain metastases. Breast cancer, the most common invasive cancer in women, can be successfully cured if caught in time. However, metastasis, namely brain metastases are difficult to treat due to blood-brain barrier that prevents the passage of drugs into the brain. In addition, brain metastases can lead to a wide range of neurological, debilitating symptoms.

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But now researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have managed to treat breast cancer with brain metastases using gene therapy combined with cellular therapy. Cell therapy is part of immunotherapy based on T cells (cells that belong to the immune system). Naturally, T cells activates cellular immune response that fights the destruction of microorganisms with which the body comes in contact. After several experiments in the laboratory, researchers modified these cells in order to destroy breast cancer cells, then they injected these sensitized T cells to destroy brain metastases. Researchers have demonstrated in this way that T cells can recognize cancer cells and destroy them.

The other therapy, gene therapy, uses a drug called 5-flurocytosine (5-FC). In order for the gene to enter the cancer cells, it must first be inserted into a virus that infect cancer cells. After the cells are infected with the virus, 5-FC, which is non-toxic, is given to patients. Then the cells convert the non-toxic drug into a toxic drug, which means that they are destructed.

Researchers from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have shown that each of these two methods (gene therapy and cellular therapy) led to the destruction of metastasis in laboratory experiments, but the success rate was recorded when the two were combined. Carol Kruse, professor of neurosurgery and a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center and the UCLA Brain Research Institute, said that although brain metastases (which are secondary tumors) are 10 times more common than primary tumors, there is a significant lack of funding studies to the research in this area. He added that patients with brain metastases have a poor prognosis because the brain is considered a ‘sanctuary site’ where many chemotherapy drugs are ineffective. It must be said that both therapies are now being tested in studies to treat primary brain tumors.