A new way to treat cancer?

Scientists may have found a new weapon against cancer. According to a new study in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers have shown that a cold virus – or reovirus – known to destroy cancerous cells can be delivered through the bloodstream and target a tumour, without being killed by antibodies on the way.

The virus not only kills the cancer cells directly, but also triggers an immune response similar to a vaccine, helping to destroy residual cancer cells.

Because the virus regularly causes upper respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, most people have already developed antibodies toward it, writes lead researcher, University of Leeds clinical oncology and biotherapy professor, Alan Melcher.

“What people thought that meant was that if you’ve got antibodies against the virus, if you just inject it into the bloodstream, it can never work because it will just be neutralized by the antibodies,” he said in a statement to the press. “But what we were able to show, actually, was that by associating with blood cells in the blood, the virus can effectively hide from the antibodies and therefore get transported through the circulation and so get to the tumour.”

The study looked at 10 patients in the advanced stages of colorectal cancer, who were about to have surgery on tumours that had spread to their liver. They were each given five intravenous doses of the virus in the weeks leading up to their surgery.

When the research team analyzed the cancerous liver tissue removed from the body four weeks later, they noticed viral factories were active in the tumour, but not in the healthy liver tissue.

“It seems that reovirus is even cleverer than we had thought. By piggybacking on blood cells, the virus is managing to hide from the body’s natural immune response and reach its target intact. This could be hugely significant for the uptake of viral therapies like this in clinical practice,” Melcher continued.

More research and testing is needed to see if the reovirus can actually eliminate or even just shrink tumours, but the study does show that the virus – when delivered intravenously – has tremendous cancer therapy potential.

The problem with delivering cancer killing viruses directly to the tumour is that it can be complicated and invasive, especially when dealing with tumours that sit deep within the body. This discovery means there is potential to deliver treatment with a simple injection into the bloodstream.

And the beauty about this potential treatment is that it would mean little to no suffering for patients undergoing it – at worst they would suffer mild flu like symptoms – a big improvement from the suffering endured during chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Sources: Science Translational Medicine, National Post

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Barbara Reddoch

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