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Health, Science & Tech

Pitt Study Shows 'Decoy' Can Fight Cancer

An injection of 'decoy' material into human tumors helped reduce certain cancer activity, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Pitt Professor of Otolaryngology Jennifer Grandis said the decoy targets a protein called "Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3" (STAT3), which is difficult to treat because it's found mainly in the nuclei of cancer cells.

"STAT3 can transform cells, make normal cells into cancer," said Grandis. "STAT3 drives really critical programs that seem to be important to the behavior of cancer cells, like proliferation, survival, invasion and metastasis. So, for a very long time, STAT3 has been a very attractive therapeutic target, but there really haven't been any agents."

Grandis said the study team injected the decoys -- made of small pieces of DNA -- into the head and neck tumors of patients who were just about to have their tumors surgically removed. The idea was to attract STAT3 to the decoy, rather than to normal human cells.

"We simply squirted the contents of the syringe into the tumor, and marked that area, and then, at the end of the operation, took a biopsy from the area that was injected, and compared it with the pre-treatment biopsy for the proteins that we were looking at," said Grandis.

Since STAT3 activity was apparently reduced by the decoy, Grandis said the research team is moving on to animal trials to test for any toxic side effects.

"And so, we're doing those studies now in mice, and then we hope to entice a corporate partner, because doing larger-scale studies might be more expensive and more complicated than academic laboratories can do," said Grandis.

She said STAT3 is present in most types of cancer, so the decoy treatment could be widely used if it's approved for use in humans.