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Saturday, 4 November, 2000, 00:16 GMT
Fighting disease with disease
Herpes simplex
Herpes simplex: villain turned hero
Doctors have developed a new ally in the fight against disease - the very viruses that are themselves responsible for serious illness.

As the BBC television series Superhuman reports, Glaswegian Robert Swan is living proof of the new-found ability of doctors to fight disease with disease.

When he was 25 Robert developed an inoperable brain tumour known as a glioma.

Brain scan
Robert's brain scan shows the tumour, in red, is still present
It affected his speech, paralysed his right side and would eventually have killed him.

He was given standard anti-cancer treatments, but the tumour kept growing.

As a last resort, he agreed to be the first person in the world to try a radical new approach to brain cancer.

Robert had a hole drilled directly into his head and a live virus injected straight into his tumour.

The virus selected was herpes simplex - the virus which causes cold sores.

Herpes is particularly good at destroying rapidly-dividing cells.

Dividing cells

Professor Moira Brown was in charge of the operation, which took place at Glasgow Southern General Hospital.

She said: "I thought could this virus destroy rapidly dividing tumour cells and yet not affect cells which are no longer dividing?

"In the brain most of the cells are no longer dividing.

"We had turned something that was potentially bad into something that was potentially good."

Robert Swan
Robert Swan is living a normal life
Prof Brown said the procedure was relatively simple to carry out - but radical nonetheless.

The treatment appears to have worked.

Robert's tumour is still present, but appears to have changed in consistency and to have stopped growing.

Four years later, Robert is continuing to improve.

No-one really knows what will happen in the longer term. But for the time being Robert's life is returning to normal.

Robert can hardly believe his good fortune: "It makes me feel excellent. I have been okay since I had the dose."

Superhuman - Killers Into Cures is broadcast on BBC One on Sunday 5 November at 2115 GMT.

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See also:

14 Oct 00 | Health
Emergency care 'can backfire'
22 Oct 00 | Health
Living with a dead man's hand
28 Oct 00 | Health
'We can rebuild him....'
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