Gene is a physical and functional unit of heredity made from DNA, and it is located in the nucleus of the cell. Gene commands the cells to make molecules like proteins, and it is also responsible to decide what we look like and how our body should be working. So, with the help of our ‘genes’ researchers have developed a progressive method for treating cancer known as ‘Gene Therapy’.
Gene therapy is developed with an aim to identify and cure rare diseases, and conditions that have limited to no treatment options, or need a lifelong medication to keep the symptoms in check. For instance, lysosome diseases need a lifelong medical attention, however, with the help of gene therapy the diseases can be cured in one attempt. Moreover, gene therapy is a technique that uses genes to prevent or treat various diseases. In future, this technique might allow the doctors to treat any disorder by inserting a gene into patient’s cells instead of using drugs or surgery. Moreover, getting gene into cancer cells is one of the most difficult aspects of gene therapy, and the researchers are working to find a better way to inject gene into the cancer cells.
Growing Prevalence of Cancer is Boosting the Demand for Gene Therapy
Prevalence of cancer is increasing at an alarming rate. Globally, 18 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year. The standardized rate for all cancers in men and women combined was accounted for over 190 per 100,000 individuals in 2018. Moreover, the highest cancer rate was found in Australia at 468 people per 100,000. With growing cancer burden in almost all countries, prevention of cancer is one of the significant challenges of 21st century. Here’s when gene therapy steps in, with this method the cancer cells can be replaced by healthy cells.
So how are cancer cells different from normal cells?
Normal cells become cancerous when a series of mutation leads to an uncontrollable cell growth and division. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells remain in the region where they first began, and they also can invade nearby tissues and spread to distant regions of the body. In a way a cancer cell achieves a type of immortality. Sometimes, the body fails to recognise cancer cells from normal cells and fails to destroy them as it does to other foreign cells. However, with the gene therapy the multiplication of cancer cells can be stopped.
Popularity of gene therapy is increasing as we are finally understanding how our own genes can help us fight deadly diseases. Researchers are taking a lot of efforts to determine different types of gene therapy to curb the prevalence of cancer. Although gene therapy is a promising treatment option for cancer, the technique still remains risky, and it still needs to be studied to ensure a safe and effective treatment. Following are the types and challenges of gene therapy:
Types of Gene Therapy
Important aim of this gene therapy is to boost body’s natural ability to attack damaged cells, as our immune system can recognize and kill cancer cells.
Pro-drug gene therapy delivers genes directly into the cancer cells and allows the cells to change drugs to active form from and inactive form, the inactive form of the drug is called a pro drug. The steps to begin a gene therapy are:
As the name suggests, it blocks the processes that cancer cells use to survive. For instance, most cells in the body are programmed to die if their DNA is damaged beyond repair. Cancer cells attempts to stop this process for its survival. Thus, the main aim of this therapy is to reverse this blockage implemented by the cancer cells. In addition, researchers are looking for new and better types of cancer treatment that will kill the cancer cells.
In this treatment, viruses are used to kill cancer cells rather than delivering it to the genes. For instance, Drug T-VEV (also known as Imlygic) is one of the types of altered viruses, it uses a strain of cold sore viruses and commands those viruses to destroy the cancer cells. T-VEC has become a successful mean of gene therapy and is now used in the treatment of melanoma skin cancer, and head and neck cancer.
Gene augmentation therapy is used to treat diseases that are caused by mutation that stops a gene from producing protein. Here, the therapy adds DNA that contains the same functional versions as of the lost gene back into the cell. This new gene produces a functioning product to replace the protein that was originally missing, which in turn would aid in eliminating the cancer cell growth.
Inhibition therapy is suitable for the treatment of infectious diseases, inherited disease and cancer caused by inappropriate gene activity. The main aim is to produce a gene whose product inhibits the expression of another gene or interferes with the activity of the product of another gene. Gene inhibition therapy helps eliminating the activity of a gene that encourages the growth of cancer cells.
Challenges of Gene Therapy
Development of Gene therapy is still under process. Currently, researchers are working to eliminate the potential challenges that comes along with the therapy. However, we can expect that in future, this therapy will work wonders and will aid in reducing the prevalence of cancer among the population.