New technique may target viral cancers

In collaboration with the Press Association

A technique that targets proteins that are only found on the surface of viruses could provide a new way to treat or even prevent cancers that are caused by viruses, scientists have said.

As many as one in four cancers worldwide are thought to be linked to viral infections, including cervical cancer , which is caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), liver cancer (caused by the hepatitis B virus), and a number of lymphomas and sarcomas in patients with AIDS/HIV.

Many viral cancers are difficult to treat using conventional therapies and lead researcher Ekaterina (Kate) Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said that there is an "urgent need" to find new treatments and prevention strategies for these cancers.

The technique the team developed used antibodies that had been 'radiolabelled' - tagged with a radioactive metal known as 188-Rhenium. The antibodies were designed only to bind to proteins produced by virally-infected cells.

The team showed that these radio-antibodies could attack cervical cancer and liver cancer cells that had been transplanted into mice.

Professor Dadachova commented: "This study demonstrates a real possibility for more specifically targeted cancer treatments.

"Targeting those antigens with radio-labelled molecules offers exquisite specificity - and will hopefully allow us to significantly increase the efficacy of treatment by administering more individualised doses while avoiding toxicity.

"Furthermore, this approach will make possible 'molecular prevention' of viral cancers, when infected cells will be targeted before they become cancerous," she added.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine.