Tumor formation and growth depends mainly on the inability of the organism to elicit a potent immune response, and on the formation of new blood vessels that enable tumor nutrition. Interleukin-12 (IL-12) therapy can target both processes. And IL-12-based gene therapy may restrict IL-12 production to the relevant site in order to obtain enhanced antitumor activity and reduced toxicity. In the clinical setting, IL-12 gene transfer can be used either to improve the pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic profile of the cytokine, to transduce dendritic cells or to enhance the efficiency of antitumor vaccination. It can also synergize with other procedures involving the simultaneous transfer of other transgenes or non-gene based strategies. The strong anti-tumoral power shown in many different animal models has not been found in early clinical trials in which cancer patients were treated by peritumoral injections of autologous fibroblasts producing IL-12, intratumoral injections of an adenoviral vector encoding human IL-12 genes, or intratumoral injection of autologous dendritic cells transduced ex vivo with this same adenoviral vector. However, these trials have set the proof-ofconcept that local production of IL-12 inside a tumor can stimulate tumor infiltration by effector immune cells and that in some cases it is followed by tumor regression. From the many questions that arise after these disappointing results the most relevant concerns the duration and intensity of transgene expression and the capability to monitor this topics in vivo. New vectors that might achieve regulated, long-term production of this cytokine might have better results and merit clinical testing.
Keywords: Biological therapy, immunotherapy, genetic engineering, gene transfer techniques, gene therapy, liver neoplasms, hepatocellular carcinoma, dendritic cells, interleukin 12
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