Scientists Are 'Training' Virus to Attack Ovarian Cancer Cells

Dr. Alan Parker called the research an “exciting advance”, offering real potential for patients with a variety of cancers. (Credit: Cardiff University)

Scientists from the University of Cardiff have trained a virus to recognise ovarian cancer cells, then destroy them. 

Although reprogrammed viruses are commonly used in gene therapy to treat diseases, this virus can do its work without affecting healthy cells, according to the researchers. 

“In cancer treatment, up until now reprogramed viruses have not been able to selectively recognise only the cancer cells and would also infect healthy cells, resulting in unwanted side effects,” said Cardiff University’s Dr. Alan Parker. 

The research team are hoping treatment could be a future possibility and also be used to treat other cancers such as breast, pancreatic, lung and oral cancer. The study is published in Clinical Cancer Research. 

Scientists Are 'Training' Virus to Attack Ovarian Cancer Cells

An adenovirus A20 fibre protein. (Credit: Cardiff University)

“We’ve taken a common, well-studied virus and completely redesigned it so that it can no longer attach to non-cancerous cells,” Dr. Parker continued. 

“Instead, the respiratory virus seeks out a specific maker protein called αvβ6 integrin, which is unique to certain cancer cells, allowing it to invade them,” he said. 

The virus attached to αvβ6 integrin on ovarian cancer cells and used it to enter the cell. Once inside, it hijacked the cell’s molecular machinery to replicate itself until the cell burst and new virus particles were released. These new viruses went on to infect other tumour cells, until the tumour was destroyed. 

The experiments were carried out in vitro and in living mice. The scientists hope to carry out a human trial in five years’ time. 

The reprogrammed virus used in the research is from a group of viruses called adenoviruses, which is relatively easy to manipulate and have already been safely used in cancer treatment, said the researchers. 

Dr. Catherine Pickworth from Cancer Research UK, that funded the research, commented: “Viruses are nature’s nanotechnology and harnessing their ability to hijack cells is an area of growing interest in cancer research.”