Stealth Virus For Cancer Therapy


Source: University of Zurich

Summary: Researchers have redesigned an adenovirus for use in cancer therapy. For this, they developed a new protein shield that hides the virus and protects it from elimination.


Viruses have their own genetic material and can infect human cells in a very specific manner. They will then reproduce using the resources of the host cell. These properties make them interesting “gene shuttles” to fight hereditary diseases or cancer. A virus which normally causes the symptoms of a typical cold human adenovirus 5 has substantial advantages. Its genome can be replaced completely by an artificial one which contains only “useful” genes. Lacking its original viral genes, the virus can no longer trigger diseases. Until now, the use of adenoviruses in tumor therapy has been very limited but researchers from the University of Zurich have redesigned an adenovirus for use in cancer therapy. For this, they developed a new protein shield that hides the virus and protects it from elimination. The study findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Adenovirus can be used for cancer therapy

The adenovirus (left) camouflages itself from the immune system thanks to its protective coat (right). Credit: University of Zurich

The team created molecules that act as an adapter between the virus and the tumor cell. The adapters, which cling very tightly to the coat of the virus, can, depending on their version, bind to different surface molecules on the tumor cell. They tested adapters for several receptors such as HER2 and EGFR, which are present on various types of cancer cells and found that only viruses that were equipped with these adapters were able to infect the tumor cells. The shield protects the redesigned virus from the immune cells and also prevents the virus from elimination. Using these stealth gene shuttles, the UZH scientists want to develop novel therapies for different types of cancer. The numerous advantages of adenoviruses will also likely contribute to the development of resistance against drugs.

Prof. Andreas Plueckthun said, “With this gene shuttle, we have opened up many avenues to treat aggressive cancers in the future, since we can make the body itself produce a whole cocktail of therapeutics directly in the tumor.”


More Information: Markus Schmid et al, “Adenoviral vector with shield and adapter increases tumor specificity and escapes liver and immune control”, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02707-6


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