Scientists have engineered a common cold virus to kill cancerous tumours while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Researchers from the University of Oxford altered the genetic structure of the adenovirus so that it still replicated and destroyed cancer cells, but keeps enough of its gene ‘signature’ to trigger an immune response which safely eradicated it after the job was done.
Previous studies looking into tackling cancer with adenoviruses resulted in scientists producing weakened forms of the virus as a precaution to prevent organ damage.
But the new research, reported in the journal PLoS Pathogens, showed that by ‘tweaking’ the virus and injecting it into mice, cancer was destroyed while the animals’ livers were left undamaged by the virus.
Lead author Professor Leonard Seymour said: ‘The approach we developed is easy to use and flexible. It may help in the development of future therapeutic viruses that are specific to certain disease sites.
‘This modified virus was effective in these laboratory studies, but transfer of the technology to the clinic to be used with patients will require further work - and it will probably be at least two years before this can happen.’