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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Virus injection blasts blood cancers
Mice were given human tumour cells, then treated
The destructive powers of a living, replicating virus have been harnessed to destroy human tumours implanted into mice.

It is a radical method of tackling cancer cells which may prove resistant to traditional methods of treatment.

Scientists have already used "live" viruses such as polio and herpes to attack brain tumours, but a team from the Mayo Clinic in the US, is employing a modified measles virus against lymphoma tumours.

The viruses are weakened so they cannot actually make a patient ill - but keep their ability to enter tumour cells, replicate themselves, then burst out, destroying the cell.

When the virus was injected directly into large human tumours which had been taken out and put into mice, the cancer quickly went into remission, meaning no sign of it could be detected.

The results are published in the scientific journal Blood, and a pilot study is continuing at the clinic using the virus in real patients.

Dr Adele Fielding, who is leading the project, said: "We found that injecting the vaccine strain of the virus into the tumour caused remission of the large, established human B-cell lymphoma in laboratory mice.

"Our study proves the principle that the measles vaccine virus destroys lymphoma cells."

Another weapon

She is hopeful that the strategy may provide another weapon for patients in whom all other treatments have failed.

Even given intravenously, the virus stopped cancers growing.

Our study proves the principle that the measles vaccine virus destroys lymphoma cells

Dr Adele Fielding, lead researcher
Lymphoma - cancer of the lymph circulation system in humans, affects approximately 10,000 patients a year in the UK.

While some types are more responsive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, others are resistant, and fewer than 50% of non-Hodgkins lymphoma patients are alive five years after diagnosis.

There are several ways in which scientists are hoping viruses will help them attack cancer.

Another possible use of a virus is to help "prime" the immune system to attack tumour cells.

Slices of genetic material from the cancer cells themselves are inserted into the viruses.

When these are picked up by the immune system, it fools the body into launching an attack on the tumour.

Professor Vincenzo Cerundolo, of the Institute of Molecular Microbiology at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said: "There are a number of teams working on this sort of thing.

"We are preparing for trials on patients with melanoma.

"It normally takes a long time for the immune system to become aware of the tumour. This should hopefully speed it up."

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21 May 01 | Health
Deadly virus 'wipes out tumours'
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Leukaemia: a parent's story
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