Scientific journal Nature reported October last that cancer-fighting viruses had started to win approval.

Scientists have long been intrigued by the idea of using viruses to alert the immune system to seek and destroy cancerous cells. That interest has taken off in recent years as advances in genetic engineering allow them to customize viruses that target tumors.

Dr. Osvaldo Podhjacer, Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Therapy at the Fundacion Instituto Leloir in Buenos Aires, and his team has developed an oncolytic virus designed to target both malignant cells and tumor-associated stromal cells.

Researchers hope that ongoing clinical trials of similar oncolytic viruses and their approval will generate the enthusiasm and funding needed to spur further development of the approach.

What are adenoviruses?

They are a family of viruses which may cause infections in humans as well as animals. The most common infections caused by adenoviruses are respiratory tract infections.

« This is a virus, which, by genetic modification, we have restricted their infectivity exclusively to malignant cells, in spite of the fact, originally, the virus can infect normal cells and cause colds, conjunctivitis and bronchitis.

Why immunotherapy?

Because in addition to the changes we have made to restrict the infection only to malignant cells, it also has a gene that exacerbates the immune response. Then there is a direct attack on the tumor initial and an additional immunological response which in principle eliminates the residual tumor, which was not eliminated by the virus and disseminated metastases, » Dr. Podhjacer explained

The Avian Adenovirus
Avian Adenovirus, courtesy and copyright Milan Nermut from UK’s National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. The sample was freeze-dried and shadowed with Pt/C.

According to the journal Nature, the strategy builds on a phenomenon which has been recognized for more than a century.

Physicians in the eighteen hundreds, first noted their cancer patients sometimes unexpectedly went into remission after experiencing a viral infection. Based on these reports, doctors in the fifties and sixties were then inspired to start injecting cancer patients with a menagerie of viruses. Sometimes the therapy destroyed the tumor, and on occasion it killed the person instead.

According to Professor Lawrence Young, a cancer specialist from the University of Warwick, however said, the field of immunotherapy has advanced rapidly in the past ten years and there is a great deal of positivity for what the future holds in the fight against cancer.

Scientists argue, new treatments such as immunotherapy should be greeted with caution.

Fourscore men and fourscore more
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before