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Medicine Science

A Virus that Attacks Brain Cancer 131

Ponca City, We Love You writes "In the past few years, scientists have looked to viruses as potential allies in fighting cancer. Now researchers at Yale University have found a virus in the same family as rabies that effectively kills an aggressive form of human brain cancer in mice. Using time-lapse laser imaging, the team watched vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) rapidly home in on brain tumors, selectively killing cancerous cells in its path, while leaving healthy tissue intact. 'A metastasizing tumor is fairly mobile, and a surgeon's knife can't get out all of the cells,' says Anthony Van den Pol, lead researcher and professor of neurosurgery and neurobiology at Yale. 'A virus might be able to do that, because as a virus kills a tumor cell, it could also replicate, and you could end up with a therapy that's self-amplifying.' It's not yet clear why VSV is such an effective tumor killer, although Van den Pol has several theories. One possible explanation may involve a tumor's weak vascular system. Vessels that supply blood to tumors tend to be leaky, allowing a virus traveling through the bloodstream to cross an otherwise impermeable barrier into the brain, directly into a tumor."
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A Virus that Attacks Brain Cancer

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  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @04:18PM (#22627312) Homepage Journal
    IIRC, in 28 Days, the virus involved was being developed as a bioweapon rather than as a cancer cure.

    I don't think that this will lead to a zombie plague, though--I think it's more likely if something goes wrong that the patient would die of encephalitis or something similarly unpleasant.

    A 'zombie-like' state would require the virus to target fairly specific areas of the brain--temporal lobes and the like, if I'm remembering my brain geography correctly. Though, of course, this depends on whether you want to produce the 'traditional' shambling-servant type, or the hip new raging maniac type.

    Still, if it's a choice between possible death and even more possible death, or between possible zombification and likely death, I'd take the risk. Brain tumors can really mess you up, y'know?
  • by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @04:47PM (#22627676)
    Also worthy of pointing out is that the brain isn't patrolled by the immune system. Still, stage IV cancer will kill a person too. Furthermore, this virus .. VSVrp30a isn't a human attacking virus. I believe it would require too high a number of specific mutations in its genome to acquire the ability to target non cancerous cells (though I have no idea what the specific SNP's are). Now before someone runs around claiming this is in the rabies virus family... the amount of mutations required to get there is astronomical (unless there somehow exist conditions for directed evolution).

    Viruses that attack tumors (oncolytic viruses), have been studied for years and there is a whole list of them .. check out wikipedia.

    Outside the brain most viruses can be handled effectively by the immune system, especially if primed against it (thats why small pox, rabies etc. vaccines exist). Yes, yes, I know HIV and HCV aren't. They're exceptions.
  • by bcwright ( 871193 ) on Monday March 03, 2008 @05:22PM (#22628074)

    I hate to sound jaded, but it *is* more profitable to treat a disease than cure it.

    By and large this is just simply not true, though it gets repeated so much that it becomes "common knowledge" much like the old wives' tale that you'll get pneumonia by going out in the cold (it may make an existing infection worse, but unless you're exposed to the disease itself you won't get it). In most cases, you can charge quite a bit for a real cure, and besides that the insurance companies will refuse to pay for a more expensive long-term treatment if they know that a real cure exists.

    There are exceptions of course, particularly in cases where the expense of finding a cure is very high and the disease is uncommon, so that it's not possible for a cure to make much money unless you're able to charge an astronomical amount for it. There are quite a few of these "orphan" diseases which don't get much attention because there just aren't very many people who suffer from them. Naturally both investors and investigators tend to focus on diseases that affect more than a handful of people - which brain cancer certainly does; I lost my wife to a brain tumor, and I've known a number of other people of all ages who have had them, many of whom died from them, including small children.

    One thing that you have to keep in mind is that true "cures" are often very difficult to achieve, especially for tough diseases like cancer. If it were that easy, there are thousands of researchers who would leap at the chance to get their names immortalized in the history of science (not to mention any financial rewards they might obtain).

    Sorry, I just don't think that this oft-repeated conspiracy theory will stand up to serious analysis.

  • Failsafe (Score:-1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 03, 2008 @07:19PM (#22629448)
    If you really wanted to prevent mutation just remove the RNA sequence from the viral shell. The ability to target cancer cells is almost assuredly on the protein coat that binds to the cells. Just remove the RNA from the virus, replace it with a drug that causes apoptosis, and inject into host. Sure it won't self replicate so the production costs would probably be larger, but there will be zero chance of mutation and you can regulate the virus' levels in the host far more easily.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell