Fully Reprogrammed Virus Offers New Hope as Cancer Treatment

Source: Cardiff University

Summary: Researchers has successfully ‘trained’ a respiratory virus to recognize ovarian cancer and completely destroy it without infecting other cells.

In cancer treatment, up until now, reprogrammed viruses have not been able to selectively recognize only the cancer cells and would also infect healthy cells, resulting in unwanted side effects. Researchers from the Cardiff University has successfully ‘trained’ a respiratory virus to recognize ovarian cancer and completely destroy it without infecting other cells. Once the virus enters the cancer cell it uses the cell’s machinery to replicate, producing many thousands of copies of itself, prior to bursting the cell and thereby destroying it in the process. The newly released viral copies can then bind and infect neighbouring cancer cells and repeat the same cycle, eventually removing the tumour mass altogether. The virus also activates the body’s natural immune system, helping it to recognize and destroy the malignant cells. The study findings were published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Respiratory Virus

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The team has taken a common, well-studied virus and completely redesigned it so that it can no longer attach to non-cancerous cells but instead seeks out a specific marker protein called 伪v尾6 integrin, which is unique to certain cancer cells, allowing it to invade them. The reprogrammed virus is from a group of respiratory viruses called adenoviruses. The advantage of using these viruses is that they are relatively easy to manipulate and have already been safely used in cancer treatment. The technique used to reprogramme the virus to identify the protein common to ovarian, breast, pancreatic, lung and oral cancers could also be used to manipulate it so that it would recognize proteins common to other groups of cancers.

Dr. Catherine Pickworth said, “It’s encouraging to see that this virus, which has been modified to recognize markers on cancer cells, has the ability to infect and kill ovarian cancer cells in the lab. Viruses are nature’s nanotechnology and harnessing their ability to hijack cells is an area of growing interest in cancer research. The next step will be more research to see if this could be a safe and effective strategy to use in people.”

More information: Hanni Uusi-Kerttula et al, “Ad5NULL-A20 – a tropism-modified, αvβ6 integrin-selective oncolytic adenovirus for epithelial ovarian cancer therapies”, Clinical Cancer Research (2018). DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-1089 

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