Scientists researching the use of viruses like that of the common cold to treat cancer have reported a breakthrough.
Leonard Seymour, a professor of gene therapy at Oxford University, has been studying ways of attacking cancer cells with viruses.
While the technique, called virotherapy, is not new, it has always proved difficult to get viruses to attack tumors, which have spread, or in essence cancer cells, which have broken away for the tumor, entered the blood stream and started to form new tumors. The reason has been that viruses have been unable to escape the body's immune system and thereby enter the blood stream.
Seymour and his team worked with chemically modifying the viruses, or coating these viral 'soldiers' with a polymer coat, or it so that could escape attack from the immune system.
Seymour calls this new adaptation of the virus as 'stealth virus', meaning they are masked to escape detection.
Seymour hopes to turn the strength of tumor into its weakness by using an effect of the tumor; suppressing the immune system in order to survive. In this manner the virus will be able to replicate into millions of copies in cancer cell. This in turn will cause the cell to burst and release these copies, which then, infect other tumor cells.
Though successive trials on cancerous tumors of mice have been carried out, use of virotherapy as the third arm of cancer treatment, along with radiation and chemotherapy is still several years of research away, says Seymour.
The scientists plan to begin trials of the coated virus on human liver tumors this year. Being the preliminary stage, the study will be using uncoated adenovirus or disabled viruses, in order to make them less pathogenic. The team hopes to understand the safety in treatment of humans, and the dose required.
Says Dr Richard Sullivan of the research's fund sponsor Cancer,"Whilst this approach is still at an early stage of development it has exciting potential, particularly for the treatment of cancer which has spread - a notoriously difficult stage of the disease to treat."