Gene Therapy Research and Cancer [Interview][Transcript]

Dr_Jason_Williams_MD_Gene_Therapy_CancerGuest: Dr. Jason R. Williams MD
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Jason R. Williams is the CEO of Precision StemCell, an outpatient imaging and image guided treatment facility located in Bogota, Colombia. Dr. Jason Williams is a medical doctor and board-certified radiologist and pioneer in minimally invasive, image-guided cancer therapies. He’s been interviewed by numerous media outlets.

Segment overview: In this segment, Dr. Jason R. Williams, M.D., talks about his cancer research and a gene therapy that may slow aging and extend life.

Transcription

Health Professional Radio

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard, glad that you could join us today. Our guest in studio today is returning to talk with us, Dr. Jason Williams – a board certified radiologist and a pioneer in minimally invasive image guided cancer therapies. He is been here with us before and his returned today to talk with us about his cancer research and gene therapy that could possibly slow the aging process and maybe even extend life. How are you doing today Dr. Williams?

Dr. Jason Williams: I’m doing great Neal. How are you doing?

N: I’m doing well, especially now that we’re talking about slowing the aging process and extending life. Now you’ve been involved deeply in minimally invasive breast cancer therapies, and new highly effective immunotherapy drugs as opposed to surgical options for some advanced stage cancers and even pre-cancerous tissue. Now when it comes to gene therapy are we talking about 2 separate research channels where gene therapy is one for reducing the process of aging and cancer being another one or are they tied together somehow?

N: Well, essentially they are tied together. And we really had hoped that gene therapy was gonna lead to curing a lot of diseases. And it still has that great hope, but it’s a little slower to come along and a little by to see. And we thought that maybe if we could manipulate some of the genes in cancer cells that we could generate a cure. And there is some hope obviously cancer’s a very complex disease and so that’s not gonna be one thing that’s kind of really take care of all of it particularly in the gene therapy aspect. But I worked for many, many years in research in gene therapy and one of the things that were looking at we were looking at what happens with the patients where they when they develop cancer. Their weight, they lose muscle and they become very frail. So we thought if we could develop a gene therapy that maybe enhance their overall muscle mass, that they would do better, that this will sort of maybe not a direct cure but will increase the actual overall health of the patient. And so I started doing some animal research where that one of the things that we did was we were looking at a gene that enhances this muscle mass and keeps your muscles from breaking down, the gene helpful with that. And when we did this, one of the things I did that was different than usual – normally we’ll give this to the animals, we let them live for a while, and then we would take the sacrifice and we would look at the organs and see the effect and that study had already been done. We needed to see that there is no effect in the organs, we need to enhance the muscle mass. So instead I decided that I was just gonna let these animals live and see what they do and I didn’t expect this but one of the things that happened was is that we the have controlled the untreated and we have the treated one. While all the untreated they started dying off, they live this are…they live a body to a year and half. And the ones that were treated they still look young, they still were very very active, they were much more muscular, and they lived 2 and half years and they looked young died. I mean they didn’t look, they didn’t age much as the other animals. The other animals started losing their hair and their hair becomes greyer, darker and they looked great. And so I thought “Wow this is impressive and a sort of accident.” We weren’t really looking for anti-aging, I’m very interested in anti-aging and there’s definitely a link for cancer, because cancer cells are immortal and they can essentially live forever in the right environment. But we were looking to treat cancer patients. And so we were falling deeper it to it seems that this gene actually may enhance several key longevity genes. And so this could end up being potential treatment for aging, which of course the aging actually results a lot of other problems heart disease, diabetes, these types of conditions and if we can reduce aging, we can reduce a lot of this other conditions as well. And hopefully help people stay healthy for a much longer period of time.

N: Now are certain types of cancer hereditary? We’ve heard of test that determine a person is going to have type of cancer because their mother or their father did. Are we talking about actually changing the message that we talked about cancer cells telling the immune system that the cancer cells are part of the body thereby preventing the immune system from attacking. Are we even going deeper and on the DNA level changing the message?

W: Yes. So we are able to change the message. And one of the key mechanisms that we have that we do is we use “viruses.” So viruses normally they infect the cell and they inject their genetic material into the cell and then they essentially start producing their protein will form more virus. What we do as we strip all that out of the virus and we just put the gene that we want to deliver. And we used there are several viruses we can use, one that’s really proven very well and actually there is an approved therapy for a lipoprotein deficiency. It’s approved in Europe, it’s not approved in the United States, using the same virus called the …. virus and these are great delivery vehicles for genes. Obviously we can look at replacing some of the faulty genes are blocking some of the gene that we don’t, that we don’t want to spread live the cancer. But probably more effective will be to place genes into cancer that stimulate the immune system to attack it, that the cancers are producing, basically producing its own death sentence. And by making things that cause the immune system to want to attack it.

N: You’ve talked about your research in these rats.

W: Right, yes.

N: Now you said that they lived for a year, a little over year and then more than a year. It even went into 2 years after being allowed to live rather than sacrificed. Were any of these subjects ever allowed to reproduce? Was there any research done in their offspring to see if maybe there were certain genes in the offspring that would make it so that they weren’t gonna get cancer at all?

W: Right and we didn’t personally though. Another group that was studying, they’re studying the same gene, looking at it for muscular dystrophy. They did study the reproductive capability that the animals could still reproduce. We didn’t personally look at that, this to me the thing with this gene was that the gene you really probably want to turn on more as when you’re an adult. It can be involved with certain developmental aspects when you’re younger and you don’t want it express more then. But as soon as you hit adulthood you could probably use to have more of this and so that …

N: So that’s as an enhancement, as an enhancement to your okay, to your already existing defenses, yeah?

W: Exactly. And the gene, if you put it into a person or animal it doesn’t really affect the reproduction. It doesn’t transfer to the offspring. It’s in the cells that are already developed, personally we actually purposely try to put them into the muscle cell because that’s where the most reaction form takes place. And the muscle can actually be used it’s kind of your own factory to produce the protein from this gene. And obviously it’s the muscle that’s affected the most where you give enhanced muscle mass which leads to basically a better metabolic… You’re not as likely to gain weight with that or you have more muscle mass. Obviously when you’re older you’re gonna be likely to be ill and fall and these types of problems.

N: Uh huh. Now we’ve talked about gaining muscle mass. What about reversing damage that has been done to reduce that mass? Has that been something that’s been seen in your research?

W: Yes. So one of the other things that we’ve been looking at is that when you look at the gene and the cells that they divide, the end of the chromosomes have a segment of genes that are called, they are called “telomeres.” And what they made is that as you age, these telomeres they shorten, and as they shorten there becomes a point where it’s critical and these cells will not divide properly. And so we have done work and there have been some animal studies done by some other groups so really we’re enhance the enzyme that will … this genes and essentially can reverse some of the aging process and reverses a lot of the associated damage that you see from cells dividing over and over, and they divide either for certain number of times and then they’ll die off and this can actually stop that process and will probably in the animal models the results have been a 24% increase in life span. But another aspect and aging like cancer has many, many different components to it so it may take us a very long time to figure it out completely, but I think we’re very close to figuring out a few key aspects that we can in our lifetime we can probably see a 50% increase in life span.

N: Great. Now as we wrap up I’d like to talk very briefly about the response that you get from other healthcare professionals in the cancer research field when you begin to talk about the reducing or minimizing aging, and living longer, and better muscle mass. When you’re talking about staying younger and longer, what does that do for the medical industry?

W: Sure. And I think we have kind of two different groups. And obviously some people think that we’re playing around too much at nature and that we shouldn’t be doing these things. And there are certainly other group that they’re very excited and they’re wondering ‘how can they get this?” A lot of people are very, very interested in that and certainly we’re getting closer and closer that where this could be something and maybe in a few years could be used more on people. The only problem we have is that to try to develop a therapy for aging, and to get it approved by a body such as the FDA – they don’t really recognize aging as a disease. And they don’t really approve things that aren’t for treating diseases. So that maybe a challenge but certainly I think the healthcare professionals that I talk to, a lot of them are very I think most of them want to know when can used this. I think they’re excited, now obviously for us this position is going to take away a lot of our work, but that would be good thing, we’ll have to find other things to do.

N: Absolutely great. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. It’s been a pleasure talking with returning guest today Dr. Jason Williams, board Certified Radiologist and pioneer in minimally invasive image guided cancer therapies. We’ve been here this afternoon talking about his cancer research and gene therapy research that may actually slow the aging process and extend life. It’s been great having you back with us again Dr. Williams.

W: Thank you Neal, I appreciate it.

N: Thank you. Transcript and audio of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.