Genes to the rescue

Published: Monday 30 September 1996

oral cancer is the most prevalent malignancy among Indian men. Now, scientists at the Cancer Research Institute ( cri ) in Mumbai have taken the first step towards curing the cancer with the help of gene therapy. They will use a genetically-engineered version of a virus called murine leukaemia virus that causes blood cancer in mice. The research team led by Rita Mulherkar, a molecular biologist at cri , have based their efforts on a technique first developed in the us about five years ago.

The researchers at cri will first cripple the murine leukemia virus so that it will be unable to replicate. They will then combine a gene producing the thymidine kinase enzyme with the dna of the crippled virus. This genetically-engineered virus will be injected into oral tumours of the patients after which they will be given a drug called gancyclovir which destroys the tumour cells infected with the virus. Tests on animals are underway and trials on humans are likely to begin only in 1998 after a series of "pre-clinical experiments", said Mulherkar.

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