• Kyodo

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More than half of a patient’s brain tumor has died after undergoing surgical gene therapy in April at Nagoya University Hospital, according to hospital officials.

“Based on magnetic resonance imaging, about 60 percent of the tumor has become necrotic and tumorous growth has been suppressed,” a doctor said Monday.

“We have not observed any abnormalities believed to be caused by the gene-therapy drugs, and therefore can confirm the safety of the treatment,” the doctor said in reference to the first case using a therapy developed entirely in Japan.

The officials said the patient, a housewife in her 30s from the Kansai region, is recovering well, although her brain is swollen and she suffers from mild headaches due to the drugs’ side effects.

The patient, who prior to the operation was paralyzed on the right side of her body and suffering from aphasia — the diminished capacity to understand words, can now move her right leg and make simple conversation, the officials said.

“I believe we need to carefully monitor her progress and evaluate the procedure,” said Jun Yoshida, a professor at the university and leader of the medical team, adding he hopes to carry out a second case of such treatment by the end of the year.

Regarding the suppression of the tumor’s growth, Yoshida said, “It’s hard to say based on one case, but we have seen the effects of the treatment and are hopeful. It is meaningful that domestically developed techniques will go in a new direction.”

On April 3, the team excised about 70 percent of the woman’s tumorous growths and injected a cancer-fighting solution into the remaining malignant tumor. The team used its “multiplex membrane liposome,” a fat capsule they developed, as a vector to deliver the solution.

The liposome, which measures one-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter and contains most of the ingredients in human cell membranes, was used in wrapping genes that create interferon, a cancer-fighting substance, once they reach tumor cells.

Interferon is usually produced by cells reacting to a viral infection. The fluid with the capsulated genes was injected five more times starting April 17. The patient had brain tumors untreatable by conventional surgical techniques.

Surgical gene therapy, first conducted in the United States 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 an immune-system disorder.

Gene therapy was used in 1998 by the University of Tokyo in a 60-year-old man with kidney cancer, and in 1999, when Okayama University treated a lung cancer patient in his 50s.