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PRoD #3: Engineered virus makes cancer reveal itself

12 May 2011

Press Release of the Day is a short, pithy, accurate summary of the day’s weirdest, most interesting, or most-fun-to-write-about science press release.

Tumors detected in a mouse kidney using a modified herpes virus. Image courtesy of Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have created a genetically modified herpes virus that seems to trick tumors into announcing their own presence—loudly. If confirmed in human trials, the technique could become a cheap, portable way to detect cancers at a very early stage.

The herpes variant was engineered to bypass healthy cells and only infect tumors. It then causes cancer cells to produce a protein that is easily detectable in the blood. So far the virus has been proven to work on human tissue samples that included healthy cells as well as several types of cancer.

The virus was also tested in living mice—some healthy, others with the same types of cancer as the human tissue samples. Healthy mice showed no significant signs that the virus was replicating, nor elevated levels of the marker protein. But of the mice with tumors, more than 90% showed both virus replication and increased protein production.

In some mice, the technique revealed tumors that were still microscopic. Researchers compared that to finding a tumor less than half an inch wide in a human adult.

Aside from the fact that this method has yet to be proven on living humans, there is one other caveat: researchers expect that a human patient would develop an immune response to the virus after the first exposure, so in its current form the technique could be used only once.

The research was published 11 May in the journal PLoS ONE.

(244 words)

Read the original paper: Cancer Screening by Systematic Administration of a Gene Delivery Vector Encoding Tumor-Selective Secretable Biomarker Expression (via PLos ONE)

Read the press release: Scientists use genetically altered virus to get tumors to tattle on themselves (via Cincinnati Children’s Hospital)

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