Research Points to Possible New Lung Cancer Treatment

There may be new hope for patients with advanced lung cancer. It comes in the form of a new tumor-suppressing treatment delivered by way of special nanoparticles.

Rajagopal Ramesh, PhD, an Oklahoma TSET Cancer Research Scholar with the Stephenson Cancer Center, was a lead investigator in a Phase I clinical trial that evaluated a novel technique for treating patients with very advanced lung cancer. Patients enrolled in the trial had already exhausted other forms of cancer treatment and had experienced no improvement, despite such aggressive therapies.

The research focused on the reintroduction of a Tumor Suppressor Gene, TUSC2, into lung cancer cells. Several TSGs occur naturally in human cells, whose primary function is to halt uncontrolled growth of cells. However, in human cancers, one or more of the TSGs are mutated or lost. This results in the loss of TSG function, which leads to continued cell division and cancer cell growth said Ramesh, who holds the Jim and Christy Everest Endowed Chair in Cancer Developmental Therapeutics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

"The idea was, if we reintroduce this TUSC2 gene into lung cancer cells, then the gene would express the protein in the cancer cells and make the cells either stop dividing and growing, or make them die,” Ramesh said.

The phase I clinical trial utilized nanoparticles as a vehicle to deliver the tumor suppressor gene TUSC2 to lung cancer cells. The treatment was delivered intravenously to 31 patients over a period of months with encouraging results.

The treatment was well tolerated by patients. Some fatigue and dizziness were the only side effects reported. It also stabilized cancer growth in one in six of the patients enrolled in the trial and who showed clinical response.

In addition, Ramesh said the treatment is less expensive than a lot of other cancer therapies. For those reasons, he believes the research points to a possible new treatment option for patients for whom traditional therapies have failed.

"Realistically speaking, we are saying that this is something which might work, and this is something that doesn't hurt, and this is something that doesn't really cost the patient much,” Ramesh said.

Ramesh cautions that the TSG therapy is not a "magic bullet," pointing out that much work remains to be done.

The phase I clinical trial was conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where Ramesh worked before joining the Stephenson Cancer Center. It focused on the safety and effectiveness of the new, cutting-edge therapy. Additional research is now planned, focusing on improving the nanoparticle delivery system.

The research findings appear in a recent issue of the online medical journal PLoS ONE.

The study was supported in part by grant funding to Ramesh from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.