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Mutated Gene Zaps Pancreas Cancer in Mice

A mutated gene named Bik can shrink or kill tumors in the pancreas of mice, US researchers said in a study published Monday, offering hope for one of the deadliest human cancers

The mutant gene named Bik expresses a protein that forces cancer cells to kill themselves, researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said.

The team even created a more lethal mutant, called BikDD, which spares healthy tissue.

"There are no good options for pancreatic cancer patients now," said James Abbruzzese, professor and chair of MD Anderson Department of Gastrointestinal Oncology.

Two types of mice were treated after they were infected with two aggressive lines of pancreatic cancer, one in a very advanced stage.

Infected control mice in both groups died within 40 days without treatment, while at least half those who received the aggressive BikDD mutant gene survived for 14 months with no signs of cancer.

"This vehicle, or vector, is so targeted and robust in its cancer-specific expression that it can be used for therapy and perhaps for imaging" that could lead to early cancer detection, said Mien-Chie Hung, professor and chair of Anderson center and senior author of the study.

"This looks like a promising approach to gene therapy for pancreatic cancer and we are working to bring it to a clinical trial," said Abbruzzese.

He estimated it will take between one and two years to complete US Food and Drug Administration requirements for Phase I clinical trial in humans. The side effects in mice were mild, they said, which is rare for cancer treatments.

Pancreatic cancer kills 96 percent of human victims within five years of diagnosis, one of the lowest cancer survival rates.

Some 37,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. Early diagnosis is extremely difficult, so the disease is often discovered at a late stage after it has already spread, or metastasized. br>


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