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New virus could be breakthrough in cancer treatment
Researchers have now succeeded in modifying a virus in such a way that it kills carcinoma cells and certain neighboring cells, which are induced to protect the cancer from the immune system and to supply it with growth factors and nutrients. This could be a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.
Scientists at the internationally recognized University of Oxford modified a virus to kill both cancer cells and neighboring cells, which are often involved in the spread of the dangerous disease. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Cancer Research".
Dual-action virus appears to be promising
The researchers said this was the first time that cancer-associated fibroblasts in solid tumors were targeted in this way. If further safety tests are successful, the so-called dual-action virus, which has been tested on human cancer samples and on mice, could already be tested on people with carcinomas as early as next year. Currently, any therapy that kills the affected fibroblast cells can also kill fibroblasts throughout the body, for example in the bone marrow and in the skin, which causes increased toxicity, the study authors explain.
How does the virus work?
In their study, the scientists used a virus called Enadenotucirev, which has already been used in various clinical studies to treat carcinomas. It has been modified so that it only infects cancer cells without affecting healthy cells. The experts added additional genetic instructions to the virus that caused cancer-infected cells to form a protein known as a bi-specific T cell engager. The protein was developed to bind to two types of cells and to hold them together. In this case, the virus was designed to bind to fibroblasts. It also attaches specifically to T cells, a type of immune cell that is responsible for killing defective cells. This caused the T cells to kill the attached fibroblasts.
Virus could enable treatment of resistant cancers
The virus affects carcinomas, which are the most common type of cancer, and begins its work in cells in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs, such as the pancreas, colon, lungs, breast, ovaries and prostate, the doctors explain. This innovative virus delivery system, which targets both the cancerous tissue and the surrounding protective tissue, could improve the results for patients whose cancers are resistant to current treatments, the experts explain.
More research is needed
Further clinical trials will now be crucial to determine whether stimulating the patient's immune system has no unintended consequences. The team tested therapy on fresh human cancer samples taken from patients, including solid prostate cancer tumors that reflect the complex structure of real tumors. They also tested the virus on samples of healthy human bone marrow and found that it did not cause toxicity or inappropriate T cell activation. Even if most cancer cells from a carcinoma are killed, fibroblasts can protect the remaining cancer cells and help them recover and thrive, says study author Dr. Kerry Fisher from the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford. So far, there has been no way to kill both cancer cells and fibroblasts at the same time without harming the rest of the body. The new technique to fight fibroblasts while killing cancer cells with the virus could be an important step in reducing the suppression of the immune system in carcinomas and should start the normal immune process, adds the expert. These viruses are already being tested on humans. Therefore, the doctors hope that the modified virus will move to clinical trials next year to find out whether it is safe and effective in cancer patients. (as)