Can a Herpes Virus Fight Cancer?

Treat one virus with another virus like herpes? It may sound crazy but it’s happening right now. Cancer is not everybody’s favourite topic. The prospect of abnormal cells dividing uncontrollably in your body and destroying healthy tissue is completely terrifying. But a new drug might be able to help by harnessing one virus to attack another.

Viruses are Tiny

The largest are smaller than the smallest bacteria. And because they are nothing but genetic material wrapped in

The largest are smaller than the smallest bacteria. And because they are nothing but genetic material wrapped in protein coat, they can’t live without a host. Viruses can reproduce by attaching themselves to other cells; cells they reprogrammed to make new viruses until the host cell dies. And sometimes, viruses turn normal cells into cancerous ones.

But it’s the virus’ ability to infect and kill cells that makes them an ally in the fight against cancer, because we alter the way viruses behave. Using a virus to attack another virus is otherwise known as virotherapy.

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The Potential of Viruses To Treat Diseases

This potential became clear more than a century ago when doctors noted that cancer patients who caught measles, hepatitis or glandular fever seem to temporarily recover. In 1949, patients with heart lymphoma were injected with the viral hepatitis. 1/3 of the 21 patients injected experienced temporary remission.

Fast-forward to the present and we now have The Institute for Cancer Research in London conducting successful trials with a skin cancer drug called T-VEC. T-VEC is a version of the common herpes simplex virus genetically modified to only replicate in unhealthy cancer cells, destroying tumors while leaving healthy tissues intact.

T-VEC is injected right into the tumor, even in advanced stages. Once the cancerous cells burst, this triggers a second auto-immune response. T-VEC also includes a gene that encodes a type of protein called granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) that recruits immune boosting cells to the tumor.

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So they are killing cancer cells and brining in the tumor-fighting cells and this speeds up the drug’s cancer-fighting effect while also stimulating the immune system, waking up the body to kill the cancer cells. It’s this two-way attack that is exciting the scientists. According to the findings the drug is even been shown to kill cancer cells that migrated away from the treated tumor, stopping the spread of cancer.

The Latest Research Results

This last trial is the first to show that the drug actually increases survival rates among cancer patients. For the latest trial, T-VEC was given to 436 patients from 64 cities in the US, UK, Canada and South Africa, all of whom have inoperable malignant melanoma. And though the drug is still not licensed, it could become a great asset in the fight against cancer, even at an advanced state.

Ways of harnessing viruses to attack cancer have certainly come a long in the last half century. And with drugs like T-VEC, we would be able to fight other types of cancer in the not so distant future. So as much as me may hate the herpes, it could be very helpful to us in this respect.

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