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Gene Therapy Helps Dogs Stricken With Cancer

Treatment could eventually be used to improve lives of humans with disease, study says

MONDAY, June 16 (HealthDay News) -- A gene therapy that has extended the lives of dogs with cancer may also be able to help people who have the disease live longer with a better quality of life, the therapy's developers say.

The treatment, given only once, was tested successfully on 55 dogs with cancer and anemia. It increases muscle strength and counteracts common cancer complications such as weakness, weight loss and anemia, principal investigator Dr. Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, a researcher with VGX Pharmaceuticals Inc. in The Woodlands, Texas, said in a prepared statement.

"With our type of gene therapy, we can trick certain types of cells in the body to naturally produce specific hormones," he said. These hormones have a muscle-building, or anabolic, effect.

In the study, which was expected to be presented Monday at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in San Francisco, 54 percent of the dogs responded to gene therapy, confirmed by blood tests, after three months.

Of those dogs, 84 percent lived longer than those that did not respond to gene therapy and other dogs with cancer that received a placebo.

The dogs who responded had a better quality of life, especially a better appetite, and their complications of chemotherapy, such as vomiting and diarrhea, were greatly reduced, the study found.

VGX Pharmaceuticals has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to study this treatment in humans with cancer cachexia, a form of cancer linked to limited food intake, Draghia-Akli said.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about cancer.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Endocrine Society, news release, June 15, 2008

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