Gene therapy has shown promise for the first time to help treat bowel cancer that has spread to the liver.
The Adelaide researchers showed that the new approach, which uses a modified virus to infect the liver, was able to shrink tumors in mice.
“We are very excited about these results,” said Dr. Susan Woods, one of the researchers on the study published in the journal Gastroenterology.
More tests will be done to see if the therapy might work for other cancers that travel to the liver, such as tumors of the breast, lung, and pancreas.
The modified virus exclusively targets the liver and introduces a copy of a gene that tells the organ to make more cells called fibroblasts, which are known to be good and slow cancer growth.
The SAHMRI team and the University of Adelaide have been investigating why normal cells that surround cancer are good while others are corrupted and promote tumor growth.
“In bowel cancer, we know that patients with the poorest prognosis have many of these fibroblasts that support corrupted or malignant tumors,” said Dr. Susan Woods.
This type of gene therapy that uses a modified virus to enter the liver is currently used in patients with blood disorders.
“This is the first sign that we could use this to treat cancer that has spread to the liver,” said Dr. Woods.
Bowel cancer survivor Hannah Devereux is encouraged by the research, saying there needs to be more treatment options for people who are diagnosed with the disease late, when it has already spread.
Hannah was just 34 when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer, shortly after the birth of her second child.
“She had the baby, she was 10 days old and they found two tumors. My world fell apart,” he said.
Hannah had complained of digestive symptoms during pregnancy.
“The doctor thought it was related to the pregnancy,” she said.
Hannah required intensive treatment for one year that included six months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and two major surgeries.
She has now reached the five-year cancer-free milestone and is the ambassador for the Jodi Lee Foundation to prevent bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer affects more than 15,000 Australians each year and less than 50 percent of cases are caught early.
More than 100 Australians die each week from bowel cancer.