Wednesday, 17 April, 2024
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SA bone-healing research offers hope for malignant cancer

The Wits Bone Research Laboratory is the the only unit of its kind to show that a bone-forming protein can block growth of human squamous cell carcinoma, say scientists.

Recombinant human transforming growth factor-β3 (hTGF-β3), which helps form bone, has been linked to shrinking malignant tumours – the novel application being a welcome addition to cancer therapy research, said Professor Ugo Ripamonti, lab director, who has shown that  hTGF-β3 can retard and stop the growth of human oral squamous cell carcinoma.

Human oral squamous cell carcinomas (hsCCs) are the most common head and neck cancers in southern Africa, he added.

“We are seeing that head and neck cancers are presenting with more aggressive biological and clinical features, due to an increase in smoking, alcohol and viremia – which is the presence of viruses in the blood.”

He said it was still unknown how the hTGF-β3 can target cancer, but the protein has been shown to act differently in many contexts.

“For example, we see it can make substantial new bone in primates. It can also heal large mandibular defects. hTGF-β3 is really incredible and the research into what the protein can do is novel and exciting.”

Already, clinical trials conducted at Wits University have revealed the feasibility of using hTGF-β3 to reconstruct mandibular (lower jaw) defects in humans, reports Newswise.

Cancer treatment promising

Meanwhile, mice were implanted with squamous cell carcinomas taken from biopsies of a person’s oral cavities for the cell carcinoma study. When the mice were injected with relatively high doses of hTGF-β3, histology and molecular biology results showed that the cancers turned into non-malignant cell carcinomas.

In other words, the cancer markers changed, and the tumours were stopped in their tracks.

These mice, know as athymic mice, cannot reject cancer cells because they have been genetically prepared without T-lymphocytes, the T-cells that fight infection. The transplanted human oral squamous cell carcinomas took three weeks to graft into the chest cavities of the mice before the treatment was started.

Developing countries need treatment options

Ripamonti said that developing countries would shoulder the increasing global cancer burden. With demographic trends shifting (urbanisation, population growth, ageing and a decreased incidence of infectious diseases), coupled with tobacco, alcohol consumption and dietary changes, cancer would become more common, and unfortunately, more aggressive.

However, treatments are costly, particularly in already resource-constrained public health settings.

An article in the Frontiers in Public Health journal notes that the survival rate of different cancers is lower in developing countries.

Historically, these countries have poorer early detection programmes, disease prevention initiatives, cost-effective treatment, and cancer care infrastructure.

Another study profiling Africa reveals that 1.1m new cancer cases and 711 429 related deaths occurred in 2020. Furthermore, due to the changing demographics and rising populations, the cancer burden is estimated to increase to 2.1m new cases and 1.4m deaths by 2040 in Africa.

Currently, the main cancer treatments on the continent include surgery, radiotherapy and systemic therapies. The latter refers to hormonal therapy, targeted therapy and chemotherapy. But these are not always available on time and have a prohibitive price tag.

While cancer care should address barriers to care and other systemic failures of the system, clinical research must deal with the limited medical options.

“The use of hTGF- β3 is, of course, a new option and we’re talking to oncology specialists. Like most research, it will take some time because our research is novel and seen as controversial,” said Ripamonti.


Frontiers in Public Health – Editorial: Cancer burden, prevention and treatment in developing countries (Open access)


Newswise article – Bone healing research shows promise in treating malignant cancers (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


First successful treatment of squamous cell carcinoma with HPV vaccine


An epidemiological insight into HPV status and prognostic gene mutations in head and neck cancer


High amounts of carbs may increase head and neck cancer recurrence risk





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