Doctor and PatientIt looks like a real breakthrough in killing cancerous tumors may be near. The weapon? A virus. This isn't a new phenomenon, since research scientists noted the connection decades ago, but now with the ability to subtly fine-tune and engineer viruses, the tactic is gaining momentum.
Here's how it works: Cancer cells replicate fiercely, but they are unable to stop infections as well as healthy cells can. That's why scientists have been searching for ways to create viruses that are too weak to damage healthy cells but are powerful enough to target and permanently destroy tumor cells.
During past trials, doctors injected live viruses, such as chicken pox, rabies, even polio, in cancer patients. Unfortunately, patients either eventually succumbed to the lethal viruses or survived only to have their cancer return once the virus left their body.
According to a report in the New York Times, in1990, Bernard Roizman, a virologist at the University of Chicago, found a "master gene" in the herpes virus. When this gene is removed, the virus no longer has the strength to overcome healthy cells' defenses. As it turned out, the modified virus was so crippled that it could only slow tumor growth.
But now, Dr. Ian Mohr, a virologist at New York University, has altered the herpes virus so that it isn't attacked by the immune system and at the same time it kills cancer cells more efficiently.
Meanwhile other viruses are being used for illnesses like melanoma, bladder cancer, and head and neck cancer.
Stay tuned as this promising treatment develops.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's medical reporter. Check back for her daily updates. Her most recent book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V Is For Vagina."
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