Sunway. Harvard Advances in Potential Cancer Treatment using Gene Therapy

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Aug. 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ –Sunway University in collaboration and research collaborators from Harvard Medical School’s Center made advances in studying the efficacy of molecular gene therapy as a new strategy for cancer treatment.

The research could potentially contribute to shorter treatment time for cancers and reduce treatment costs.

It can also minimise the adverse effects of current chemo-drugs in cancer patients such as susceptibilities toward microbial infections, hair loss.

On the other hand, it also minimizes the other side effects of chemo-drugs that drastically affect the quality of life of cancer patients undergoing therapy.


Principal Investigator, Sunway University’s Professor Jeff Tan Kuan Onn of the Department of Biological Sciences explains, “Currently, chemo-drugs are relatively ineffective against cancer cells that have developed drug-resistance.

“This results in the need for high doses of chemo-drugs or a combination of chemo-drugs to be administered to patients with cancer cells.

“Chemo-drug resistant cancer cells also can spread quickly and that drastically reduce the survival rate of cancer patients”.

Professor Jeff Tan Kuan Onn

He says the research utilises molecular gene therapy which is the introduction of genetic materials into cancer cells to promote the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemo-drugs.

“By genetically engineering the cancer cells, we find that we can induce the cancer cells to produce activated pro-death and tumour suppressor proteins that cause cell death and growth arrests in cancer cells.

“The weakened cancer cells can then be killed relatively easily by the administration of chemo-drugs in smaller doses.

“Ultimately, the research could contribute to increasing the survival rates of cancer patients undergoing cancer treatments,” he added.

Breast cancer cells

Co-Investigator Professor Poh Chit Laa from the Centre for Virus and Vaccine Research says the effectiveness of the strategy has been demonstrated in mice implanted with human breast cancer cells.

“In the mice that were treated with the gene therapy, the tumours obtained from the treated mice showed significant tumour cell death and the tumours were 20 times smaller and 32 times lighter in volume and weight, respectively, when compared to the tumours obtained from the untreated mice.

“The results indicated that the gene therapy was able to shrink the tumours significantly, even without treatment with chemo-drugs. Small doses of market-available anti-cancer drugs could then be used to kill the cancer cells effectively.

“We hope to see our research contribute to better survival rates of cancer patients, and minimise the side-effects associated with anti-cancer drugs.”

Professor Poh

Prof Jeff Tan says the team is currently working on investigations to optimise the delivery of the gene therapy and anti-cancer drugs to human tumours with hopes that this will result in tangible clinical outcomes.

The research project was recently published in the peer-review Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology.


Collaborators for the research include Lee Yong Hoi, Pang Siew Wai and Samson Eugin Simon from the Department of Biological Sciences, Sunway University; Esther Revai Lechtich and Khalid Shah, of the Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics and Imaging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School (USA); Suriyan Ponnusamy and Ramesh Narayanan from the Department of Medicine, Centre of Cancer Drug Discovery, College of Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Centre (USA).

The research is a result of a collaboration agreement between Harvard Medical School and Sunway University.

The aim is to develop new cancer therapies targeting drug-resistant cancer cells.

In 2016, Professor Jeff Tan visited Harvard University on the Jeffrey Cheah Travel Grant which enabled him to better understand how cancer research projects are conducted as well as examining experimental models used to study cancer biology at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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