Engineered virus could treat brain cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers at Canada's University of Calgary have engineered a virus so that it might one day be used to treat glioma, an aggressive form of brain tumour.

Preliminary testing in mice showed that a mutant form of a virus called vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) was able to act selectively against glioma cells, but left healthy cells unharmed.

Several viruses have properties that make them suitable for targeting cancer cells, if only scientists could work out how to turn off their less-desirable properties.

VSV is a naturally occurring virus that can infect horses. Previous work has suggested that it might be adaptable as an anti-cancer, or 'oncolytic', virus.

"We engineered VSV to make it safer," Dr Peter A Forsyth, of the Clark Smith Integrative brain center told Reuters.

VSV was shown to be equally effective across 14 different glioma types, causing tumours to shrink. The virus was most effective when delivered into the bloodstream.

This means that VSV could "be given intravenously rather than injected directly into the brain, so it's easier for patients than an operation and if needed it can be given several times as an outpatient", said Dr Forsyth.

VSV "is promising in mice and we are excited about it, but we need to be cautious and continue to evaluate it before moving into a clinical trial," he added.

The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.