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Science & Technology

UTHSC Scientists Seeking Patent For Method Of Killing Mouth Tumors

UT Health Science Center

Scientists at the UT Health Science Center have discovered a way to kill malignant tumors in the mouth efficiently and without harming the nearby healthy tissue.

The discovery has led to a patent application for the method of directly injecting cancerous tumors with the drug capsazepine.

Oral cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the U.S. and 40,000 new cases are reported every year. Studies have shown it’s more painful than any other cancer.

Looking for a way to block that pain is what led Dr. Cara Gonzales, assistant professor at the UT Health Science Center Dental School, to inject capsazepine into oral cancer tumors in mice.

"And we had sort of a serendipitous finding that the capsazepine, which was developed to block pain has anti-tumor effects," Gonzales said. "And so it led us down a different road where we then treated the tumors with capsazepine and we were able to show that it effectively reduced the tumors. In some of the mice, the tumors completely went away."

Gonzlaes said they found capsazepine has an ability to increase oxidative damage in tumors without affecting healthy tissue, so that injecting the drug directly into the tumors would be critical to the overall health of patients with mouth cancer.

"Because a lot of their tumors are inoperable. They might lay against the carotid artery or be traveling up a nerve bundle and if you tried to cut it out, they would bleed or you would severe the nerve," she said. 

Gonzales said the patent is pending and the process must be tested on large animals before human testing could begin. Her hope is that the injection will one day be used to selectively attack tumors that are otherwise inaccessible or that have metastasized.