Australian researchers have made further advances in treating cervical disease that may greatly improve survival rates. By Antonia Maiolo
Painful surgical procedures to treat cervical cancer could soon be a thing of the past as researchers from Griffith University have developed a new drug that could cure the disease, with clinical trials set to begin in two years.
Associate Professor Nigel McMillan has created patches that will fit over the cervix working to dissolve cancer cells, leaving other healthy cells intact.
Having tested the treatment on mice, McMillan discovered the cancerous cells almost disappear and that the severity of the disease is significantly reduced. The next step is for the drug to be tested on sheep and then humans.
The drug could provide hope to women who are forced to undergo painful operations and adjunct treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to treat the disease once receiving abnormal pap smear results.
McMillan said the cervical patch that directly targets cancer cells would be “completely painless”. He said it would be “less painful” than receiving a pap smear.
The new drug works by attacking two of the virus genes, E6 and E7 (the ones that cause the cancer), and turns them off. Once the virus is removed the cancer dies.
McMillan said there had been little improvement over the past 20 years to the predicted survival time, of about five years, by using chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
He said this new treatment would improve rates of survival for cervical cancer sufferers. McMillan had worked alongside Professor Ian Frazer, the inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, for 17 years.
The World Health Organisation reported that in 2010, 685 Australian women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 241 of them died.
However, since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program in 1991, the mortality from cervical cancer has halved.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of almost all cervical cancers, which can now be prevented by the Gardasil vaccine which targets four strains of the disease.
McMillan said 99.99 per cent of cervical cancers are caused by this virus infection.
Although the vaccine prevents the spread of disease McMillan said “we really have a gap in our armory here”, as there are currently no medicines to cure the disease.
“If a woman has an abnormal pap smear they will have to wait three to six months knowing they have pre cancerous lesions before a physician will then decide to take them out or not,” he said.
“What we would envisage is the physician would say ‘come in and I’ll apply a patch’ or ‘here is a tube and gel to apply’.”
McMillan said this would provide an alternative to resorting to “medieval torture techniques of modern cancer therapy,” by which cervical cancers would be lasered, frozen or cut out with a knife.
For more advanced diseases, where the cancer might have spread from the cervical area to the lymph nodes, doctors will be able to use the same drug to be injected directly into the bloodstream.
McMillan said he sees this new drug as either a replacement to chemotherapy or radiation if it’s highly successful or an additional therapy so that doctors could lessen the dose of the more harsh medicines.
He said this would mean fewer side-effects, including minimising hair loss and the strength and duration of chemotherapy and radiation.
The project received funding from the Cancer Council of Queensland and the NHMRC.Do you have an idea for a story?
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