Common Cold Virus Can Possibly Fight Cancer
June 15, 2012

Common Cold Virus Can Possibly Fight Cancer

Connie K. Ho for

Researchers from Leeds University and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) recently announced that they discovered how a common cold virus could be beneficial in eliminating tumors and jump starting an immune response when injected into the blood stream. This new finding could have an impact on the creation of new forms of cancer treatments.

Reoviruses are thought to cause stomach pains and colds in children. However, according to Reuters Health, the viruses can also shield antibodies in the blood stream “by hitching a ride on blood cells” that could have neutralized its powers to combat cancer. Viral therapies, such as the reovirus mentioned, could be completed at routine appointments for outpatients, similar to what is done currently with standard chemotherapy.

"Viral treatments like reovirus are showing real promise in patient trials. This study gives us the very good news that it should be possible to deliver these treatments with a simple injection into the blood stream," explained co-author Kevin Harrington in a recent statement.

As well, reovirus has been studied by research teams worldwide as it has the power to infect and kill cancer cells without harming normal tissue. The experiment by ICR and Leeds University proved that reovirus works in two areas, particularly in eliminating cancer cells and then starting an immune response that could assist in killing extra cancer cells. Researchers believe that, if the treatment only killed when injected straight to tumors, it would have been problematic when applied to widespread use.

"But the finding that they can hitch a ride on blood cells will potentially make them relevant to a broad range of cancers," noted Harrington. "We also confirmed that reovirus was specifically targeting cancer cells and leaving normal cells alone, which we hope should mean fewer side-effects for patients.”

The project involved 10 patients who had advanced bowel cancer and who were scheduled to undergo surgery to remove tumors that had advanced to their livers. The participants were given five doses of the experimental reovirus treatment during outpatient appointments prior to the surgery. Four weeks later, researchers examined tissue that was removed during the surgery. They found “viral factories” of the active virus in the tumor, but not in normal liver tissue. This showed that, following injection into the blood stream, the reovirus had targeted the cancer cells.

"It seems that reovirus is even cleverer than we had thought," noted Alan Melcher, a University of Leeds researcher. "By piggybacking on blood cells, the virus is managing to hide from the body's natural immune response and reach its target intact. This could be hugely significant for the uptake of viral therapies like this in clinical practice."

Those involved in the medical community are optimistic that these viral therapies could possibly treat a variety of cancers.

"This study is an important next step in advancing oncolytic virus therapies into cancer patients,” John Bell, professor at the University of Ottawa who studies genetically modified viruses to fight cancer cells, told BBC News.

According to Reuters Health, 7.6 million people died from cancer throughout the world in 2008. By 2030, it is estimated that the number of cancer cases will increase to over 75 percent worldwide. The study was partially funded by the charity Cancer Research UK and the report was published in a recent edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.