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Nov 29, 2013 07:18 AM EST

Herpes Virus in Combination with Chemotherapy Destroys Cancer Cells, Study

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Two recent McMaster studies have found a novel way to combat cancerous tumors and cells.

Researchers found that chemotherapy when combined with herpes virus has the potential to kill enough tumors and cancer cells. The researchers said that if the right combination of herpes and cancer drugs is injected into the body, it could trigger the immune response to kill cancer.

Sam Workenhe, a postdoctoral researcher and project lead, said that this approach can directly target tumor cells and activate the immune system.

"Cancer cells are constantly evolving to outsmart the body's immune response," Workenhe said in a statement. "Effective cancer therapies target tumour cells directly and initiate an 'anti-tumour' immune response that targets tumour cells, even in the absence of the original therapeutic agent."

During the initial testing, the researchers genetically engineered Herpes Simplex Viruses (HSVs) in a way that it replicates inside the body and eventually kills only the cancereous cells.

When the modified version of herpes is injected into a tumor, it activates the body's natural immune response to fight the virus. When the virus has killed enough tumor cells, the body starts to identify the tumor and joins the fight as well.

"In our first study, we used HSV-1 and HSV-2 oncolytic viruses to activate the immune response, and in a parallel study we combined this with chemotherapy and noticed it induced tumour regression," Workenhe said.

Karen Mossman, the chairperson of McMaster's Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences said that in combination with chemotherapy, this approach could be tremendously effective. Plus, the immune systems are expert at killing viruses, which destroys the herpes quickly.

 "The beauty of that is even once the virus is long gone, the immune system is now also recognizing those tumour cells, and so the immune system can continue to clear those tumours," Mossman said.

Mossman said that with the virus shows signs of killing the tumor, lower levels of chemotherapy can be used to provide a less toxic environment for the patient.

This unique treatment has few side-effects. The patient might feel like he/she is suffering from a viral infection for a couple of days.

The experiment is currently in the last stages of trials on mice.

The findings were published in the scientific journals Molecular Therapy and Cancer Immunology Research, earlier this month.

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