A long-term project into the children’s respiratory virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has found that the virus kills cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
Dr. Santanu Bose, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, USA, has discovered that the cancer-fighting affect of RSV whilst studying the immune response of normal and cancerous cells to RSV.
Dr. Bose explained that RSV fights cancer cells because it grows only in tumours, not healthy cells, ‘normal cells have weapons to shoot down viruses, but cancer cells have lost their anti-viral arsenal. For this reason, viruses can establish themselves in a tumour, grow and induce cell death.’
Viruses that infect and damage cancer cells are known as oncolytic viruses. The oncolytic properties of RVS have been confirmed in further tests using mice, showing that the virus has a strong anti-cancer effect.
Dr. Chatterjee, Professor of molecular medicine and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, USA, said it is important that the virus killed tumours even in mice with competent immune systems. This mirrors human patients who have functioning immune defences. RSV also worked whether it was injected directly into the tumour or systemically through the abdomen. ‘This is important because there are some tumours to which you can inject the drug directly, whereas others you can’t and a drug must work systemically,’ Dr. Chatterjee said.
A series of papers published in 2009–2011 have led the researchers to apply for a patent so that they can begin to manufacture the virus for human use in the treatment of cancer.