Cancer killing virus could prevent disease returning

Cancer killing virus could prevent disease returning

Scientists using viruses to combat cancer have found a way to prevent the disease from returning by targeting the healthy cells tumours use as camouflage and life support.

It is the first time that cancer-associated fibroblasts within solid tumours – healthy cells that are tricked into protecting the cancer from the immune system and supplying it with growth factors and nutrients – have been specifically targeted in this way.

This two-pronged attack could allow doctors to directly target tumours and unmask the cancer cells, which “kick starts” the immune system causing it to attack the deadly invader.

While it still needs to be proven in human trials, it was safe and effective in tests on mice and in-lab samples of human carcinomas – the most common group of tumours that arise in the lining of the major organs or skin.

The researchers, who were primarily funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cancer Research UK, say that if further safety testing is successful, the dual-action virus could be tested in humans with carcinomas as early as next year. 

Currently, any therapy that kills the ‘tricked’ fibroblast cells may also kill fibroblasts throughout the body – for example in the bone marrow and skin – causing toxicity.

“Even when most of the cancer cells in a carcinoma are killed, fibroblasts can protect the residual cancer cells and help them to recover and flourish. Until now, there has not been any way to kill both cancer cells and the fibroblasts protecting them at the same time, without harming the rest of the body,” Dr Kerry Fisher from the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford, who led the research, says.

“Our new technique to simultaneously target the fibroblasts while killing cancer cells with the virus could be an important step towards reducing immune system suppression within carcinomas and should kick-start the normal immune process.

“These viruses are already undergoing trials in people, so we hope our modified virus will be moving towards clinical trials as early as next year to find out if it is safe and effective in people with cancer.”

Further information

Read more on the MRC website.

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