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Anti-cancer virus 'hides' in blood

14th June 2012

Researchers have discovered that a tumour-killing virus can sneak around the body by “piggybacking” on the back of blood cells.

The study in 10 people at the University of Leeds and The Institute of Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden Hospital, who had bowel cancer which had spread to the liver, has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Scientists hope the reoviruses – which are normally harmless - can be used to treat cancer, although there are also concerns that the immune system could wipe them out.

It has been found that the viruses, which could hide in the blood and reach their target, have the potential to infect and kill some cancerous cells while leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed.

But because the indications are that the immune system would destroy the virus, it would need to be injected directly into the tumour or patients be given drugs to suppress the immune system.

The 10 patients were injected with doses of the reovirus ahead of their scheduled surgery.

The virus was detected in the tumour, but not the liver, meaning it was selectively targeting the cancer.

Professor Alan Melcher from the University of Leeds said: “By piggybacking on blood cells, the virus is managing to hide from the body's natural immune response and reach its target intact.”

The Institute of Cancer Research said viral treatments like reovirus were showing real promise in patient trials and the latest study was a positive indication that it should be possible to deliver these treatments with an injection into the bloodstream.

 

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