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Electricity Delivers Gene to Fight Melanoma

New trial will use mild shock to open skin pores, mobilize immune system

WEDNESDAY, April 13, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Promising new gene therapy against skin cancer, in which researchers use electricity to open skin pores and deliver an immune-bosting gene, is now being readied for clinical trials.

"This is a milestone clinical trial because it is the first time that electroporation is being used to deliver plasmid DNA in a gene therapy study in humans," Richard Heller, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of South Florida, said in a prepared statement.

Heller helped develop the technology that's being used in the Phase I clinical trial, which will enroll 18 to 25 patients with advanced melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that's often resistant to treatment.

The trial will test the safety of electroporation, which involves the use of a hand-held device applied to the skin that delivers pulses of electricity. According to the experts, this stimulation opens up pores in the tumor cell membrane, allowing small molecules called DNA plasmids to get inside the tumor before the tumor membrane pores close again. These plasmids contain the gene for interluekin-12, which stimulates the immune system to fight the cancer.

"Melanoma does not respond well to standard chemotherapy," co-researcher Dr. Adil Daud, an assistant professor of oncology in the Cutaneous Oncology Program at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, explained in a prepared statement.

"Gene therapy gives us the flexibility to introduce a huge variety of potential targets for treatment, but its major limitation has been getting the gene into the cancer. If electroporation can deliver the gene to these tumors reliably and without serious side effects, melanoma and other cancers would be open to many new treatment possibilities," Daud said.

Tests of the electroporation method in mice with melanoma produced promising results, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Dermatology has more about melanoma.

SOURCE: University of South Florida, news release, April 5, 2005
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