A genetically modified virus that kills cancer cells and destroys their hiding places has been developed by British scientists.
It targets both cancer cells and healthy cells that are tricked into protecting the cancer from the immune system.
The role of fibroblasts is to hold different types of organs together but they can get hijacked by cancer cells to become cancer-associated fibroblasts or CAFs.
These are then known to help tumors grow, spread and evade therapy.
The virus, developed by Oxford University scientists, attacks carcinomas, which are the most common type of cancer. The findings were published in Cancer Research.
Currently, any therapy that kills the ‘tricked’ fibroblast cells may also kill fibroblasts throughout the body – for example in the bone marrow and skin – causing toxicity.
So researchers used a virus called enadenotucirev, which is already in clinical trials for treating carcinomas.
It has been bred to infect only cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone.
Lecturer Dr. Kerry Fisher also from the Department of Oncology who led the research said: “Even when most of the cancer cells in a carcinoma are killed, fibroblasts can protect the residual cancer cells and help them to recover and flourish.”
“Until now, there has not been any way to kill both cancer cells and the fibroblasts protecting them at the same time, without harming the rest of the body.”
“Our new technique to simultaneously target the fibroblasts while killing cancer cells with the virus could be an important step towards reducing immune system suppression within carcinomas and should kick-start the normal immune process.”
It was tested in human cancer samples and in mice.
The virus could be tested in humans with carcinomas as early as next year.
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