Cancer has been prominent on the schedule here of late - rightfully so, as it's a big, bad problem we're going to have to solve if we want to enjoy any healthy life extension brought about by regenerative medicine, immune system repair and the like.
One of a number of approaches demonstrating progress of late is the use of viruses to kill cancer cells:
The new [therapy] uses a genetically-engineered form of the adenovirus, which normally causes colds. ... When injected into cancerous tumors, the virus quickly multiplies in the cancer cells and kills them, the team said. ... The new adenovirus can target only cancer cells and does not harm normal cells, the team said. ... Following three rounds of injections, more than 90 percent of cancer cells in the brains, liver, lungs and womb of mice disappeared within 60 days, the team said. Clinical tests will be carried out early next year and last 18 months.
It's scientific judo: find an existing biological system that does some or most of what you'd like to achieve, and tinker it into shape for the task at hand. Viruses are good at killing cells, are simple enough for modern biotechnology to manipulate, and can be made to be very selective. Here are another two teams working away at turning viruses into cures for the cancer that waits in your future:
Researchers funded by The Terry Fox Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society have found that a cancer-fighting virus called VSV kills the most malignant form of brain cancer in mice.
The research team first modified the virus by altering one of the genes to make it safer in normal cells but still able to kill cancer cells. They then used a new way of delivering the virus - intravenously instead of directly into the tumour - and were able to target the main tumour as well as the tumour cells that had spread from the main mass.
"An ideal cancer-fighting virus should have effective delivery into multiple sites within the tumour, evade the body's immune responses, reproduce rapidly, spread within the tumour and infect cells that have spread. In this study, that's exactly what we found that VSV has done when injected intravenously," says Dr. Forsyth.
The researchers tested VSV on 14 cell lines of malignant glioma and found that the virus infected and killed all cell lines. The normal cell lines - those that did not contain malignant glioma cells - were not affected.
Mayo Clinic Cancer Center has opened a new clinical study using a vaccine strain of the measles virus to attack recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, a largely untreatable brain tumor. This is the second of several pending molecular medicine studies in patients using measles to kill cancer.
Many cancer cells, including glioblastoma cells, overexpress a specific protein, CD46, which allows tumor cells to evade destruction by the immune system. Strains of the measles virus, including the one in this study, seek out this protein, entering the glioblastoma multiforme tumor. Upon entry, the virus begins to spread, infecting nearby tumor cells and fusing them, which augments the effect of infection and increases cancer cell death.