Using gene therapy, plastic surgeons have delivered cancer fighting proteins through skin flaps placed on cancerous tumors on rats with a 79% reduction in tumor volume, according to a study in the May issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
In the study, skin flaps (a mass of healthy tissue) taken from rats were injected with the gene for IL-12 into the flaps’ blood supply. The flaps were then placed onto cancerous tumors on the rats.
The study found a 79% reduction in tumor volume for animals treated with IL-12 compared to control animals. The treatment allowed individual cells within the flap to become encoded with IL-12 and function as "miniature factories" producing the IL-12 protein at very high levels in the tumor site, according to the study.
Additionally, the serious side effects previously documented with systemic use of IL-12 were not found in the treated rats. The liver, lung, and spleen remained normal throughout the study. The delivery technique through free flaps did not cause liver toxicity, whereas using IL-12 intravenously in humans has been shown to cause liver damage.
"This could be a major advance for the delivery of a therapeutic agent to diseased parts of the body," said Dr. Gurtner. "I can see this therapy being used for breast cancer, head and neck cancers, central nervous system malignancies, and somewhere down the line hemophilia, diabetes and infections."
The study authors concluded that as oncologic reconstructive surgery is a major component of plastic surgery, the delivery of a healing agent precisely to the region where cancer was and where local recurrences are most likely to occur, could add a new dimension to the reconstructive function of free flaps in oncologic and reconstructive plastic surgery.