Gel may destroy cervical cancer
A gel to destroy cervical cancer cells and minimise the threat of disease is under development.
The gel, applied directly to the cervix, is designed to block the growth of proteins which play a key role in the development of cancer.
Tests by York University showed that the treatment could induce cancerous cells to commit suicide.
The scientists hope their work will eventually see an end to the need for surgery for early-stage disease.
They hope clinical trials will be carried out in the UK soon. However, they stress that their work is still at a relatively early stage.
Cervical cancer kills almost 250,000 women worldwide each year.
It is caused by a common sexually transmitted virus, the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The virus inserts its own DNA into cells on the cervix's surface, triggering production of proteins that prevent the cells from dying, and turn them cancerous instead.
The new gel is designed to boost the body's immune system so it is able to fight back against HPV, and prevent the build up of the rogue proteins.
The key ingredients are tiny pieces of genetic material called RNA, which enter the cells and disrupt the production of the proteins.
RNA is easily destroyed by the body, but the gel protects it by encasing it in a protective layer of fatty particles called liposomes.
However, at this stage it is still unclear whether the gel can penetrate deep enough into the cervix to kill off early-stage cancers.
But the researchers hope the gel would work even if the RNA did not get into every cancerous cell, by tipping the balance in favour of the immune system.
In theory, the gel would prevent cells from turning cancerous in women who already have persistent infections, and could also be used to kill tumours.
It is hoped UK regulators will allow testing on women with precancerous cells or early-stage cancers, before the routine surgical removal of abnormal cells.
Similar gels could also one day be developed to treat other cancers on accessible surfaces.
Dr Richard Sullivan, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an interesting approach to early stage cervical cancer, but before it could be used for the routine management of this disease it would need to be carefully studied in clinical trials in the UK.
"In particular, it would need to be compared to current studies of removing early stage disease and be shown to be as effective.
"With the progress being made with developing HPV vaccines, we hope that surgical intervention for this disease may soon become a thing of the past."
Source: BBC News