Viruses Stimulate Immune System & Fight Cancer

An article about a Swiss scientist from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and the University of Basel that has created artificial viruses that can be used to target cancer, caught my eye. These designer viruses can alert the immune system and cause it to send killer cells to help fight the tumor. You can review the results that are published in the journal Nature Communications that will provide a basis for innovative cancer treatments.

Usually most cancer cells provoke only a limited reaction from the immune system and can grow without much resistance. Viral infections cause the body to release alarm signals and stimulate the immune system to use all the available means to fight the invader.

Cancer has been treated successfully for many years with immunotherapies, as they disinhibit the body’s defense system and strengthen its half-hearted fight against cancer cells. But stimulating the immune system to combat cancer cells has remained a distant goal. They have now succeeded in manufacturing innovative designer viruses that could do that. Professor Doron Merkler from the Department of Pathology and Immunology of the Faculty of Medicine, UNIGE, and Professor Daniel Pinschewer from the Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel lead the teams.

Artificial viruses were built based on lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which can infect rodent and humans. They were not harmful for mice but released the alarm signals typical of viral infections. They also integrated certain proteins into the virus that are found only in cancer cells. By infecting with the designer virus it enabled the immune system to recognize these cancer proteins as dangerous. With the combination of alarm signals and the cancer cell protein stimulation the immune system creates a powerful army of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes known as killer cells, which identify the cancer cells through protein and can successfully destroy them.

Over the last few years the treatments available to cancer patients has developed enormously, but current treatments are still inadequate in combating many forms of cancer. Perhaps their findings and technology can be used in cancer treatments and help to further increase success rates in the fight against cancer. This designer virus has already been patented through Unitec, a structure that offers advice, industrial and financial contacts to UNIGE, the University Hospital and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Geneva researchers.

Perhaps instead of the toxic chemo and radiation treatments currently used we might also choose to build the body’s immune system to aid in combating cancer as an alternative.

Dr Fredda Branyon