The researchers harnessed the viral trait for attacking and commandeering cells, and then redirected the virus to attack diseased, rather than healthy cells. The work was done on laboratory animals implanted with two kinds of human cancer cells -- ovarian cancer and lymphoma -- and is probably still years away from use as a human therapy. But the concept has at last been proved in mice with human cancer tumors -- and that's an essential step toward using this approach to expand and improve human treatments for a variety of cancers.
The "Obedient Virus"
"When I saw the data, I was completely stunned. It's the sort of thing that, having worked on targeting viruses for about 15 years, I just couldn't believe that we'd finally got what we'd been hunting all that time," says Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D., lead researcher and director of Mayo Clinic's Molecular Medicine Program.
"It's very clean, very clear targeting. Our results show that we've efficiently ablated (destroyed) the ability of the measles virus to interact with its two natural receptors. And they also show that we can take our pick as to what new receptor we target and send the virus after it."
How They Did It
Using bioengineering techniques, the team reprogrammed the measles virus to seek a cancer cell to bind to instead of its natural binding partner. Then they invented a "molecular tag" that they attached to structures on the outside of the cancer-seeking measles virus. This tag is the key innovation of their work and central to the success of the team's investigation. It enables researchers to grow retargeted measles virus on special "universal substrate