Since advanced liver cancer lacks effective therapy in most cases, a considerable interest has been drawn towards gene therapy. Natural or chimerical genes can be transferred to the tumour itself, the non-tumoral liver, or even distant tissues using a variety of vectors administered by intratumoral or intravascular routes.
The desired selectivity in gene expression can be achieved by increasing the specificity of gene delivery or by controlling gene expression with tumour-specific promoters, such as alpha-fetoprotein or carcinoembryonic antigen. There are two main approaches to gene therapy of liver cancer aiming at killing directly malignant cells or at improving the host's defensive systems, respectively. The former include replacing the lost function of tumour suppressor genes, inhibiting the action of activated oncogenes, sensitising tumour cells to prodrugs, or infecting the tumoral tissue with viruses that replicate selectively in cancer cells. Host defences can be improved by stimulating the antitumoral immune response, or by interfering with tumour vessel formation. Progress in gene therapy of liver cancer depends very much on information collected from well-designed clinical trials.
This information includes knowledge of whether an efficient gene transfer has been achieved and what is the duration and magnitude of gene expression in the transduced tissues. Hopefully, magnetic resonance or positron emission tomography (PET) may turn out to be reliable procedures for tracing transgene expression in humans. Pre-clinical evidence and early clinical trials strongly suggest that there is a place for gene therapy of liver malignancies.
CITATION Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2003 Feb;35(2):135-48