Woman gets gene therapy


A team of doctors at Nagoya University Hospital conducted surgery Monday on a woman with malignant brain tumors using a gene therapy method developed at the school, officials of the university said.

Nagoya University is the fourth institution in Japan to perform gene therapy, but the first to use a gene therapy method developed entirely in Japan.

The three other institutions — Hokkaido University, the University of Tokyo and Okayama University — have conducted gene therapy using a sterilized virus developed in the United States as a “vector,” which carries certain genes to the affected parts of the patient’s body.

The Nagoya University team, led by Jun Yoshida, developed a fat capsule called a “multiplex membrane liposome” for use as a vector in its gene therapy.

The liposome, which measures 1,000th of a millimeter in diameter and contains almost the same ingredients as human cell membranes, was used in wrapping genes that would create interferon, a cancer-killing substance, once they reach the patient’s tumors.

The patient, a housewife in her 30s from western Japan, had tumors that had grown deep into her brain and which could not be completely removed with traditional surgery, the doctors said.

During Monday’s procedure, the doctors first cut out parts of her tumors and then injected a fluid containing the capsulated genes into the remaining parts. They plan to inject more fluid on five occasions, starting in two weeks, and will see whether the tumors shrink.

“It will take about a month to confirm how the therapy worked,” Yoshida said.

Gene therapy, first conducted in the U.S. in 1990, has been used to treat some 3,000 people, mostly in the U.S. and Europe.

In Japan, gene therapy was first used in 1995 by Hokkaido University on a boy suffering from immunodeficiency and then in 1998 by the University of Tokyo on a 60-year-old man with kidney cancer.

In 1999, Okayama University treated a lung cancer patient in his 50s with gene therapy.

Hiroshi Shiku, a professor at Mie University, said it is “very significant” that Nagoya University has developed its own gene therapy, because Japan has fallen behind the U.S. and European countries in this field of research.