Cancer is caused by mutations that occur in gene. Gene is a part of DNA that codes for a protein and these proteins play a vital role in maintaining normal functioning of the body. Gene therapy is a technique used to replace the mutated gene with functional gene. Mutations can be inherited from parents or can be acquired during the life time of an individual. Many researches are going on to understand the genetics of cancer. Gene therapy may be only way to prevent and treat genetic disorders and genetic mutations that leads to a condition known as cancer. Most of the gene therapy clinical trials, which are conducted at present, are related to cancer. Therefore in coming years gene therapy can be used to treat cancer and also this therapy can even be used to prevent cancer.
Gene therapy can be used in many different ways to treat cancer. Researchers and scientists are trying to use gene therapy technique by using following methods:
1. Gene therapy can be used to add healthy functional gene to cells that have mutated or missing genes. For example, cells normally have a tumor suppressor gene kown as p53 gene. This gene helps in preventing the cancer formation in the body. But faulty or mutated form of p53 gene induces the cancer formation in the body, and many of the cancer cells also contain faulty p53 gene. Gene therapy can be used to introduce functional copy of p53 gene into the cancerous cell, and this may change the cancer cell into normal cell.
2. Stopping oncogene or any other genes which induce cancer from working. Oncogenes are formed as a result of mutations in the genes that control cell division in the cell, this leads to the formation of tumor or cancer. Other genes are those genes responsible for spreading of the cancer to other parts of the body. Gene therapy can be used to stop the activation of these genes or can be used to prevent the protein formation that lead to cancer formation and also help in cancer spreading.
3. Gene therapy can be used to make cancer cells more unstable, by adding or changing the genes in the cell. Faulty DNA repair mechanism in the cell leads to the growth of cancer. Researchers can add or change mutated gene which can be repaired by the normal cell but will make cancer cells more unstable, which in turn will lead to the cancer cell death.
4. Gene therapy can also be used to make cancer cells more susceptible to the treatment. Many types of cancer are resistant to radiotherapy or pharmaceutical compounds used in chemotherapy, this makes even more difficult to treat cancer. Gene therapy can be used to block the genes which induce these resistant characteristics to the cancer cells. This will make traditional radiotherapy and chemotherapy more effective against cancer cells.
5. Gene therapy can be used to make cancer cells more easily detected and killed by the immune system. Cancer cells by some mechanism elude the immune system, and grow continuously. Gene therapy can be used to add the genes to the cancer cells, as these genes help the immune system in recognizing cancer cells as foreign body and help in destroying them. This type of gene therapy has already in clinical trial stage.
By improving the techniques used in gene therapy and efficiently constructing the vectors which are used to deliver the genes into the cells may improve the efficiency of gene therapy technique as a treatment to the cancer.
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