Treating the cancer with viruses is a rapidly growing field of medical research. Numerous teams all around the world are conducting the similar researches with stunning results.
These new researches are based on treatment which seeks out the cancer cells anywhere in the body – even the secondary tumors the doctors were unable to detect. Immune system cells burrow deep into each tumor and burst – releasing the virus which then rapidly multiplies, destroying the tumor from the inside out. Prof Lewis explained: ‘’ the virus replicates – it creates about 10,000 copies a day.’’
The treatment was developed for the prostate cancer patients, but its use can be widened to other cancer types. ‘There is no reason it shouldn’t work for all cancer types,’ Professor Lewis said. Currently, teams are testing this method on lab mice for breast cancer, and are about to start the researches for lung and brain cancer. Professor Lewis said there is ‘no reason’ to see any side effects at all, because of the way the therapy harnesses the body’s existing immune system.
The technique works by using white blood cells called macrophages, a vital part of the human immune system. Macrophages – derived from the Greek for ‘big eaters’ – are healing cells. The Sheffield team discovered that when a cancer patient is treated with chemotherapy, macrophages go into overdrive, swarming to the tumor site to try to heal the damage done by the chemotherapy. Usually, this is a major set-back, undoing the good work done by the chemotherapy. With injecting a tumor-killing virus into the macrophages, the virus enters the blood stream of a patient. In experiments, the results of which were published in the respected Cancer Research journal, mice were injected with the white blood cells two days after a course of chemotherapy ended. After 12 hours the cells burst and released the viruses.
There were two groups of mice divided in the research: the first group underwent the standard treatment of the cancer, and the other group was injected with virus killing cancer cells. The team found the mice given the treatment were still alive at the end of the 40-day study and had no sign of tumors. Mice on other treatments, in comparison, died after the cancer spread.
Professor Lewis said the human clinical trials, which will take place at Sheffield’s Weston Park Cancer Hospital – and also in Manchester – are a result of a new drive to get early research transformed quickly into human treatments.
‘There are an estimated 2.5million people currently living with cancer in the UK,’ she said. ‘More than 150,000 of these die every year so new, effective therapies for cancer are needed urgently.
‘Innovative research has the potential to completely transform the treatment of cancer but for this to get from the lab to the bedside it must be translated into new clinical trials with cancer patients.’
The trial, part-funded by Cancer Research UK, is due to start in the coming months.
Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK’s director of drug development, said: ‘We’re proud to lead this ground-breaking clinical trial testing a new “Trojan horse” approach that kills prostate cancer cells using virus.
‘This innovative treatment showed promise in mice, and we’re finding out if it could benefit men with prostate cancer too.’