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Trojan-horse therapy 'completely eliminates' cancer in mice

Press Trust of India  |  London 

The team hid cancer killing viruses inside the immune system in order to sneak them into a tumour. They used white blood cells as 'Trojan horses' to deliver the viral punch.

Once inside, tens of thousands of viruses were released to kill the cancerous cells, the BBC reported.

Using viruses to destroy rapidly growing tumours is an emerging field in cancer therapy, however one of the challenges is getting the viruses deep inside the tumour where they can do the damage.

"The problem is penetration," Professor Claire Lewis from the University of Sheffield said.

After chemotherapy or radiotherapy is used to treat cancer, there is damage to the tissue. This causes a surge in white blood cells, which swamp the area to help repair the damage.

"We're surfing that wave to get as many white blood cells to deliver tumour-busting viruses into the heart of a tumour," said Lewis.

Her team took blood samples and extracted macrophages, a part of the immune system which normally attacks foreign invaders.

These were mixed with a virus which, just like HIV, avoids being attacked and instead becomes a passenger in the white blood cell.

In the study, the mice were injected with the white blood cells two days after a course of chemotherapy ended.

At this stage each white blood cell contained just a couple of viruses. However, once the macrophages enter the tumour the virus can replicate.

After about 12 hours the white blood cells burst and eject up to 10,000 viruses each - which go on to infect, and kill, the cancerous cells.

At the end of the 40-day study, all the mice who were given the Trojan treatment were still alive and had no signs of tumours. By comparison, mice given other treatments died and their cancer had spread.

"It completely eradicates the tumour and stops it growing back," Lewis added.

She said it was a "ground-breaking" concept, but cautioned that many remarkable advances in treating mice failed to have any effect in people.

Researchers hope to begin human trials next year.

"Harnessing the body's own immune system to deliver a deadly virus to tumours is an exciting approach that many scientists are pursuing," Dr Emma Smith, from Cancer Research UK, said.

"This study shows it has the potential to make chemotherapy and radiotherapy more effective weapons against cancer," Smith said.

The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.

First Published: Fri, December 21 2012. 13:15 IST