Common virus used to help fight incurable brain cancer

From BBC - January 3, 2018

Scientists are optimistic that they may have found a new treatment to help people with incurable brain cancer.

Ten patients so far in the UK have received the therapy, which is a virus that causes mild flu-like symptoms.

The virus can cross the blood-brain barrier and appears to help "switch on" the body's defence systems to attack the tumour, early studies suggest.

Experts at University of Leeds and four other centres now plan to treat more patients with reovirus therapy.

Although not a cure, the scientists hope it could be a useful add-on to traditional treatments, like chemotherapy and radiotherapy and newer immunotherapy drugs to buy patients more weeks, months or perhaps even years of life.

It is too early to know what impact, if any, reovirus treatment has on survival, but researchers are hopeful that with more studies they will be able to find out.

Dr Colin Watts, Cancer Research UK's brain tumour expert, told the BBC it was "an exciting first step along the journey towards clinical use".

He added: "Scientists working with surgeons and oncologists have proven that the virus penetrates into the tumour and does what it is supposed to do - wake up the immune system to see the cancer.

"Now clinical trials are seeing if that wake-up call is sufficient to kill the cancer cells and help to improve survival of patients with brain tumours."

How it works

The virus can be injected into a person's bloodstream rather than directly into the brain, which doctors say should be less risky and more convenient for the patients who receive it.

Reovirus tends to infect cancer cells and largely leaves healthy cells alone, say researchers. Patients receiving the treatment reported only mild flu-like side-effects.

Until now, scientists thought it was unlikely that the virus would be able to pass from the blood into the brain because of the protective membrane that surrounds the brain - the blood-brain barrier.

The first-ever patient trial of the treatment - in nine volunteers with fast-growing gliomas that had regrown despite surgery and chemo and radiotherapy, or advanced cancers that had spread to the brain from other sites - showed reovirus crossed successfully to reach its target.


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