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Virus That Kills Cancer Cells: New Discovery


You might think a virus that belongs to the rabies family never could be beneficial, but scientists have discovered one that not only kills cancer cells, but also has a major role in stopping them from hiding from the immune system. This discovery is a major breakthrough in the quest to find better, effective cancer treatments.

The virus might be an alternative to chemotherapy

Researchers from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (LIFE) discovered that the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) has two impacts on the prevention of some forms of cancer. When human cancer cells were infected with VSV, associate professor of immunology Soren Skov from LIFE noted that “we were able to demonstrate that the virus kills cancer cells.”

The scientists also found that VSV stops the expression of liquid immunostimulatory molecules that are produced by certain types of cancer cells so they can hide from the immune system and continue to grow and develop. “The overexpression seen in cancer types such as melanoma, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer and certain types of leukemia significantly impairs the immune system, thereby reducing the patient’s chance of recovery, reported Skov.

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Vesticular stomatitis virus is a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family, which also has the rabies virus as a member. Unlike its deadly cousin, VSV appears to have life-saving benefits.

Discovery of the dual abilities of VSV opens up the possibility of an alternative to chemotherapy custom-made for individual patients, according to Skov. “The next step will be clinical trials in humans,” said Helle Jensen, who participated in the research at LIFE along with the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Human trials are already being performed in the United States.

Previous research by Yale researchers in mice infected with brain cancer discovered that VSV killed only cancerous cells and did not have an impact on noncancerous cells. Another important discovery by these investigators was that the virus was able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, an area around the brain that prevents some materials that may harm the brain from entering and protects the brain from hormones and other substances from the rest of the body.

This latest study involving the use of the vesicular stomatitis virus supports previous work demonstrating the ability of the virus to destroy cancer cells and provides new information about its ability to prevent cancer cells from hiding. In the near future, we may be using this virus to kill cancer cells and perhaps save lives.

Ozduman K et al. Systemic vesicular stromatitis virus selectively destroys multifocal glioma and metastatic carcinoma in brain. Journal of Neuroscience 2008 Feb 20; 28(8): 1882-93
University of Copenhagen