Modified 'stealth' virus could fight advanced cancers

It can slip past the immune system defense that prevent treatment.

Phoebe Stewart

Scientists have long explored using viruses to fight cancer, but that doesn’t work well for metastatic cancers (that is, those that have spread beyond the primary site) when your immune system will quickly neuter perceived threats. There might, however, be a solution. A team of Case Western Reserve and Emory researchers has modified human adenovirus to create a “stealth” weapon against metastatic cancers. Key mutations and protein changes reduce the chances of the immune system deactivating the virus, trapping it in the liver or producing a dangerous inflammatory reaction.

The approach would not only be safer, but would spare doctors from having to deliver viruses directly to tumor sites and could treat more than just the main tumor. It could be reworked for different types of cancer and even include genes and proteins that foster cancer immunity.

The work is still early, and it wouldn’t be a surefire cure. Tests eliminated tumors in some mice with implanted human lung cancer cells, but only 35 percent appeared to be tumor-free. It could be a long time before there are practical applications, provided this moves forward. Even so, this hints at a future where doctors could at least slow late-stage cancers and buy patients valuable time.