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International Conference Hears ODU's Heller on Bioelectrics Strategy Against Human Melanoma

Richard Heller, director of Old Dominion University's Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, presented results of a study of electroporation-delivered DNA immunotherapy against metastatic melanoma at the international DNA Vaccines 2008 Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month.

The ODU researcher also was one of the academic advisors for the conference, which explored topics including DNA vaccines, T cell responses, bioterrorism, HIV, innate immunity, clinical trials, as well as electroporation.

A team of scientists including Heller reported last month a safe and effective treatment of skin cancer in the first ever human trial of a gene-transfer process assisted by short pulses of electricity.

The findings, published online Nov. 24 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, show not only regression of treated melanoma skin lesions, but also a secondary effect of in vivo DNA electroporation that in some patients brought about regression of so-called "distant lesions" that had not been treated. This implies a systemic immunological response in the human body to the localized gene transfer.

The study was conducted at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa and the University of South Florida College of Medicine, where Heller worked before coming to ODU in July 2008 to direct the Reidy Center. He is a professor in the School of Medical Laboratory and Radiation Sciences of ODU's College of Health Sciences.

Heller and his wife, Loree, who also moved from the USF College of Medicine to ODU, are pioneers in electrogenetherapy. Their expertise promises to advance the Reidy Center's research in cancer therapies that utilize ultrashort pulses of electricity.

In electroporation, the pulses produce temporary openings in the membranes of live cells, such as tumor cells, allowing the delivery of molecular material into cells. The deliveries could be of genetic material or drugs, both of which can serve as pinpoint applications of therapies against cancer or other maladies. This procedure allows tumors to be targeted for treatment without the broad damage to healthy tissue caused by most chemotherapies today.

The Moffitt Center human trial of "electroporation-mediated gene transfer" involved 24 patients whose melanoma lesions were injected with immunotherapy DNA material and then subjected to the short pulses that allowed the material to enter the tumor cells. Electric pulses were applied using proprietary applicators and electroporation equipment supplied by Inovio Biomedical Corp. in San Diego. The study found that electroporation was a safe and effective way to deliver the DNA material, without the risks and inefficiencies of other methods.

This article was posted on: December 18, 2008

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