As scientists on both sides of the Atlantic look for ways to replace chemotherapy, one strategy is becoming paramount: using the body’s own immune system–and other viruses–to fight cancer and other diseases.
Researchers at the UK’s Institute of Cancer Research created a genetically-altered herpes cold sore virus that can first infect and kill cancer cells, then release a molecule that boosts the body’s own immune system to continue fighting tumors.
Scientists in the study report the treatment has actually cured skin cancer in some of the patients in their trials.
The UK approach is similar to the type of immunotherapy reported last month, in which doctors completely dissolved a cancer tumor in just three weeks.
“Because viral treatment can target cancer cells specifically, it tends to have fewer side-effects than traditional chemotherapy or some of the other new immunotherapies,” said Prof Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at the Institute.
At the University of Virginia, while researchers studied the secrets of a bizarre, indestructible virus that can survive in nearly boiling acid, they unlocked a blueprint for using gene therapy to fight a host of diseases.
The scientists believe that understanding the virus’ armor will let them create therapies that tear down an invading disease’s defenses — making it easy prey for the immune system.