Yale University researchers have successfully destroyed brain tumor cells by injecting laboratory mice with a specially engineered vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV).
In the study, the group transplanted human brain tumors into mice brains and injected the VSV virus into the tail end of the mouse. Three days later, the tumor cells, which had been infected with the virus, were dying or dead, while the normal brain cells had been spared, von den Pol [Anthony von den Pol, Yale professor of neurosurgery –ed.] said. Before the technology can go to human trials, he said, the researchers must conduct further tests to be completely certain it will not harm non-cancerous cells…
The viral approach to cancer treatment is not new, although it is the first time a viral candidate of this level of promise has been isolated, Guido Wollmann, a co-author on the study, said. Scientists have been testing the technique for several decades, but earlier experiments used viruses that only infected particular tumor cells, Wollman said.
Wollmann said that this technique fails because brain tumors are composed of many different types of tumor cells, and these individual cells mutate at a rapid rate over the course of the disease, leading to increased heretogeneity over time.
“If you are very specific in your target, you actually limit yourself a lot,” he said. “That’s where we came in, to find a virus that has a much broader spectrum of infection – which, in theory, in capability to get into every cell.”
But in reality, the VSV never enters normal body cells, Wollman said. Viruses can be fought off by normal cells, which have defense mechanisms – which tumor cells lack – that curb the process of infection. This gives the virus the ability to distinguish between normal and cancerous cells, and selectively kill tumor growth, he explained.