The Potential Of Gene Therapy For Cancer

Karol Sikora Clinical Oncology Department, Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, W12 ONN

The pace of acquisition of molecular knowledge on cancer is rapidly accelerating. Mutations which lead to oncogene products with increased activity or their excess production may lead to abnormal growth patterns. Tumour suppressor genes encode proteins that act as the cell's braking system. When these are deleted, mutated or down-regulated abnormal growth may result. The proteins encoded by both oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes provide a promising hunting ground in which to design and test new anticancer drugs. Four to six genetic changes appear necessary to produce most human cancers. Over the next five years a much clearer understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of several malignancies is likely.

Animal models have demonstrated promising results and clinical trials are now in progress with several of these strategies. Over 100 protocols have now been approved worldwide and results are eagerly awaited.