Medical Technology

Engineering Viruses to Attack Cancer



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Cancer is one of the primary causes of death in the US. Although newest statistics finally show a decrease in the death rate, about one thousand Americans still die each day because of this deadly disease. Even after decades of studying the various cancer varieties, a real cure has yet to be found. In recent years scientists have turned to investigating more targeted approaches with a special focus on the genetic development of cancer cells. Another area of interest is the targeting of cancer cells with killer viruses'. Now scientists Yale School of Medicine have discovered exactly that, a potential killer virus' for one of the deadliest cancers around, brain cancer. Initial tests have shown very promising results. Is there an effective cure for cancer within reach? Can a simple inoculation be the answer?

It is commonly known, cancer, left untreated and often even with treatment, will eventually be deadly. For decades scientists have studied this deadly disease and developed more and more successful treatment, diagnosis, and even prevention methods. Cancer is big business for the pharmaceutical companies and a lot has been invested in cancer research. Still, after all these years an effective cure has yet to be found. As of now, preventive measures and early diagnosis is the key to survival. Patients in terminal stages are usually doomed.

The scientific community has greatly improved its search methods for a cure. The various varieties of cancers are studied in detail, down to even the genetic development of cancer and the genetic pre-disposition to this deadly disease. In an effort to thoroughly study cancer development and the effectiveness of treatment methods, scientists even developed transparent living organisms such as a transparent frog and transparent zebrafish. These organisms allow the scientists to see what is going on inside the organism without the need of dissection.

The approaches to develop cancer-fighting measures have become more targeted aiming for higher effectiveness with fewer side effects. Great progress has been made resulting in higher survival rates over the recent years.

Besides trying to find a genetic targeting method, scientists also have worked on engineering a killer virus', one that will effectively kill a particular type of cancer, no matter how far it has progressed. Now scientists at Yale School of Medicine seem to have found one that can effectively kill of brain cancer cells.

Brain cancer is often terminal. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 21,810 Americans will be newly diagnosed with brain cancer this year alone. Over 13,000 will succumb to brain cancer this year. Brain cancer is difficult to treat and as of now, no cure has been found. Generally treatment consists of surgical removal of tumors, where possible, radiation, and chemotherapy. However, since the brain is a difficult area to operate on and many areas cannot be reached without causing major harm and even death, the aforementioned measures are usually only life-prolonging, not curing.

The scientists at Yale School of Medicine, under the lead of Anthony van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery, have engineered a virus in an attempt to kill of brain cancer cells. The lab-created killer' virus is a vesicular stomatitis virus. The scientists say this virus has replicating capabilities and is a distant relative of the rabies virus. Initial tests on mice have been very successful.

The mice involved in the study received brain tumor transplants from human or mouse brains. After a successful transplant, the mice were inoculated with the killer' virus. Within only three days, the scientists were able to detect the virus had completely or almost completely infected the brain tumor cells. The tumor cells were dying with most of them already dead. The scientists were able to target different cancer cell types with the virus. But the normal brain tissue, and even the healthy transplanted human brain tissue, were unaffected by the virus.

This development appears to be a great first step into finding a cure for all types of cancers, which could be as simple as an injection. Still, further tests are necessary to see if the same effects can be achieved in a human being. Additionally, the long-term effects have to be investigated. Viruses are potentially dangerous. Just think of the annual flu season and its effect on the population, or HIV/AIDS. How will the virus be controlled? Will the virus disappear? Or might the cure for cancer eventually lead to another deadly and more ruthless disease, if the virus mutates?

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