Researchers Study Using Modified Virus To Hunt Down Malignancies

A research team at Oxford University has successfully modified a common virus with capabilities of destroying cancer cells without wiping out healthy cells.


The adenovirus—a common virus that often causes upper respiratory infections—is adapted to deliver genetic therapy in an effort to destroy tumor cells without poisoning the liver. In its modified form, the adenovirus keeps its infectious abilities to replicate and seek out to destroy cancer cells in mice while being vulnerable to healthy liver cells in a typical immune response.


The adenovirus has been used in the past in clinical trials in the United Kingdom, but has not been licensed for use to date. Scientists deliberately weaken the virus by removing genetic information so as to avoid organ damage in the hopes of one day introducing such therapy for use by the general public.  In the latest research, scientists have for the first time successfully made the virus so that it cannot replicate harmfully, causing liver damage. This allows the virus to be used at maximum strength, achieving its purpose and without causing subsequent bodily harm.


Professor Leonard Seymour, lead author and a Cancer Research UK scientist in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at Oxford said, ‘the approach we developed is easy to use and flexible. It may help in the development of future therapeutic viruses that are specific to certain disease sites. This modified virus was effective in these laboratory studies, but transfer of the technology to the clinic to be used with patients will require further work.’


Experimental cancer treatment research that involves using weakened viruses is called virotherapy, which utilizes naturally occurring, infectious viruses modified to only destroy cancer cells. The process is similar to using weakened viruses to manufacture vaccines such as measles, mumps, influenza, polio and chicken pox. Introducing weakened viruses in such a manner often evokes a beneficial immune response and the same process remains a hopeful treatment therapy against human malignancies. 


This research is funded by Cancer Research UK and is published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.



Source: Oxford University