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Turning viruses into allies against cancer

the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., reported that the engineered virus seeks out and destroys liver cancer cells, leaving surrounding healthy tissue in tact.

The iodine "transport" protein attached to the virus acts as a kind of homing beacon for radioactive iodine, providing a second line of attack against the cancer cells, technically known as radio-virotherapy.

"These results clearly demonstrate the high potential of this modified virus to serve as a novel vector for cancer gene therapy of hepatocellular carcinoma," said Boris Blechacz, M.D., a research fellow in the Molecular Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic and the study's lead investigator.

Liver cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death worldwide, causing nearly a million deaths per year. Despite a variety of differing treatment approaches, its prognosis remains poor with a median survival of about 10 months following diagnosis. For this reason, scientists are anxious to find novel methods that could improve short- and long-term survival from this disease.

"The attenuated vaccine strain of measles virus is an oncolytic virus which has shown anti-tumor activity and tumor-selectivity in a variety of different tumor models," said Blechacz. "But its potential in primary liver tumors has never been evaluated."

In the first part of their study, the scientists studied the impact of their modified measles virus (MV-Edm) in liver cancer cell lines from human patients. Analysis of liver cancer cells removed from patients shows that these cells contain large amounts of the natural receptor for the measles virus, CD46. Overexpression of this receptor thus makes liver cancer cells ideal targets for the measles virus. The results confirmed widespread infectivity, toxicity and destruction among these cells, probably through apoptosis or programmed cell death.

When the modified virus was injected directly into human liver cancer cells grafted onto laboratory mice
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Source:American Association for Cancer Research


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