January 22, 2009

Virus made to kill cancer stem cells

U.S. scientists say they have engineered a virus to target and kill apparent cancer stem cells involved in neuroblastoma tumors.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center researchers say they used a reprogrammed herpes virus to block tumor formation in mice by targeting and killing the cells.

The scientists said their accomplishment adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting early stage cancer precursor cells with stem cell-like properties may explain how some cancers form, are treatment resistant and prone to relapse.

The study also underscores the increasing potential of targeted biological therapies to help people with stubborn cancers like neuroblastoma, which often recur and metastasize, said Dr. Timothy Cripe, who led the research.

The main finding of our study is that pediatric neuroblastomas seem to have a population of cells with stem cell characteristics that we may need to target for therapy, said Cripe. We also show that one promising approach for targeted treatment is biological therapy, such as an engineered oncolytic virus that seeks out and kills progenitor cells that could be the seeds of cancers.

The research is reported in the online journal PLoS One.