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Plastic Surgeons Turn Their Knives on Cancer

You won't see it on an episode of Nip/Tuck, but plastic surgeons have discovered a method to deliver cancer-fighting proteins through skin flaps placed over tumors on rats, according to the May issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

This new technique did not cause toxicity in the bodies of rats; however, it has not yet been tested on humans, and delivering the same anti-tumor agent intravenously in humans has been shown to cause liver damage in previous studies.

In animal models, however, it proved a "tremendous success," said Geoffrey Gurtner, the study's senior author. "Since skin flaps are used thousands of times each year in cancer patients, this may potentially open up an entirely new area in plastic surgery and bring the specialty, once again, to the center of medicine."

Gene therapy, while acknowledged as a potential tool to restrain tumor growth, has seen limited application because of the serious side effects and the need to restrict the anti-tumor agents to the cancerous area. In the study's innovative approach, healthy skin flaps taken from rats were injected with the anti-tumor agent, called IL-12, and were then placed onto cancerous tumors.

The study found a 79 percent reduction in tumor volume for rats treated with IL-12 as compared to control animals. Individual cells within the flaps even became encoded with IL-12 and acted as "miniature factories," according to the study, churning out the protein at very high levels in the tumor site. Additionally, the livers, lungs and spleens of rats remained normal throughout the study, with no toxicity registered.

"This could be a major advance for the delivery of a therapeutic agent to diseased parts of the body," said 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."