Simple Cold Virus May Help Target and Treat Cancer

2:03 PM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - The common cold may be a nuisance, but one day, scientists hope it can help cure cancer.

The virus is called a reovirus, and it usually causes infections such as the common cold or diarrhea. When it's injected in the bloodstream, though, it can sneak up on and attack cancer cells.

This discovery was published in the June 13 issue of Science Translational Medicine by researchers from the University of Leeds and The Institute of Cancer Research.

Ten patients with advanced bowel cancer were given five doses of the reovirus before they were scheduled to have surgery to deal with the tumors in their livers. During the surgery, scientists found that the virus had attached itself to blood cells and traveled to the tumors undetected.

The virus was able to stay active during the journey through the bloodstream and hide from the body's natural defenses. Scientists found active viruses inside the liver tumor cells, but not in the healthy liver tissue. This suggests that once the virus reached the liver, it only targeted the tumor cells, not the nearby healthy tissue.

"It seems that reovirus is even cleverer than we had thought," study co-author Professor Alan Melcher, a clinical oncology and biotherapy researcher at the University of Leeds said in a news release. He added that this could be "hugely significant" for using viral therapies like this in doctors' offices.

The researchers also found that the virus was eliminated from the bloodstream after it reached the tumor. However, it didn't analyze whether or not the virus could successfully destroy the tumor or prolong the patients' life.

This therapy is still in the developmental stages, and much more research will be needed to reach a point where the treatment can be used regularly.

"This promising study shows that reovirus can trick the body's defenses to reach and kill cancer cells and suggests that it could be given to patients using a simple injection," Dr. Julie Sharp, from the charity Cancer Research UK, which part-funded the research, said in a press release.

"We look forward to seeing how this research develops and if this could one day become part of standard cancer treatment," she said.

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