The system, developed at Strathclyde and Glasgow universities, is being hailed as a breakthrough because it appears to eradicate tumours without causing harmful side-effects.
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Dr Christine Dufes, a lecturer at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences and leader of the research, said: “The tumours were completely gone within 10 days. It is fantastic. When you talk about 10 days that is the time frame for curing a cold. Imagine if within 10 days you could completely make a tumour disappear.”
Researchers around the world are trying to find ways to use genes as a cancer treatment, but one problem is ensuring they attack the tumour without destroying healthy tissue.
In laboratory experiments the Strathclyde research team used a plasma protein called transferrin, which carries iron through the blood, to deliver the therapeutic DNA to the right spot. Once in situ the DNA produced a protein that attacked the tumour cells.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Controlled Release, with an accompanying comment from editor Professor Kinam Park, of Purdue University, Indiana, saying other attempts to target genes at cancer cells have “seldom shown complete disappearance of tumours”.
The research was initially supported with a grant from charity Tenovus Scotland, which supports the work of young scientists to help their ideas get off the ground.