New keyhole surgery to fight cancer

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TWO MEDICAL pioneers announced yesterday that they were joining forces to develop a new approach to the treatment of cancer that aims to target the tumour and produce fewer side-effects.

Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri, who developed the technique of keyhole surgery, and Professor David Lane, the discoverer of the p53 cancer gene, plan to build a centre that will combine their expertise.

The aim of the partnership is to use keyhole surgery to deliver modified genes direct to the site of the tumour to destroy the cancerous cells. By focusing the treatment at the site where it is needed most it is hoped that it will be more effective and side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be reduced.

Speaking at the launch of a pounds 4m appeal to fund the new centre, to be sited at the University of Dundee, Professor Cuschieri said, "One of the great problems with today's cancer treatment is the dreadful side effects suffered by patients due to the `blunderbuss' rather than the `sniper' approach to targeting diseased cells.

"The techniques of minimal access surgery and advanced imaging which we have developed in Dundee will permit application of new treatments directly to the tumour, thus potentially greatly reducing the side effects at other sites of the body."

Professor Lane, whose p53 gene has been described as the "guardian angel of the cell", said: "Cancer cells have lost the capacity to make certain proteins such as p53 which prevent our normal cells from growing out of control. In the laboratory when we introduce these proteins back into tumour cells we can show dramatic curative effects. It is the intention of the centre to bring these gene and protein based therapies into closely controlled clinical trials so that their effect can be carefully, fairly and safely checked."

Treatment will start later this year on patients for whom every other form of therapy has failed. Patients will be selected by the third member of the team, Dundee's Professor of Surgical Oncology, Bob Steele. A special surgical device has already been developed by Professor Cuschieri's team that can deliver the genes to several sites within the tumour at one time. The tumours are then expected to shrink rapidly in six to eight weeks.