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~~~Silly little virus~~~ may cure brain cancer -study (Reuters Securities)An innocuous virus commonly found in the human body shows great promise as a potential cure for a ferocious form of brain cancer in a novel strategy pitting virus against tumor, researchers said on Tuesday.- Jun 19 5:14 PM ET


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Posted on: 06/19/2001

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Tuesday June 19, 5:14 pm Eastern Time

"Silly little virus" may cure brain cancer -study

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON, June 19 (Reuters) - An innocuous virus commonly found in the human body shows great promise as a potential cure for a ferocious form of brain cancer in a novel strategy pitting virus against tumor, researchers said on Tuesday.

University of Calgary scientists tested whether the reovirus, which does not cause disease in people, could be used against malignant gliomas, the most common form of brain tumor.

The live reovirus destroyed human glioma cells growing in a test tube and human glioma cells that were implanted into mice, the scientists said. It also killed cells from brain tumors removed from human patients, they said.

Malignant gliomas are aggressive, invasive and resistant to treatment. Most patients die quickly and long-term survivors are rare.

"It's a ferocious cancer where the average survival is about a year and the prognosis for patients hasn't changed in the past 20 years in spite of better neurosurgery, better radiotherapy, better MRI scans, better anesthesia," Dr. Peter Forsyth, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

"We're still not attacking this properly. And the use of a virus is a new way to think about treating these (tumors), and it might be very exciting," added Forsyth, whose study appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The reovirus, short for Respiratory Enteric Orphan virus, is commonly found in the human respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, and does not appear to do anything bad in the body.

"Actually it's a silly little virus," Forsyth said. "It's something that we've all been exposed to."

But it's cancer-fighting potential is far from silly. The researchers said that while it does not infect normal cells, it infects and destroys tumor cells.

HUMAN CLINICAL TRIALS IN SIX MONTHS

Forsyth said the researchers were planning a first phase of human clinical trials.

"In about six months time, we anticipate starting a trial in patients with brain tumors who have failed all conventional treatment -- to radiation or surgery or chemotherapy. We would inject the virus directly into the brain tumor and basically evaluate if it was safe to deliver in that way, and also look and see if it shrank tumors and made them go away," he said.

He said it would be several years before it could be used widely to treat gliomas, assuming the clinical trials go well.

No existing cancer treatment involves the injection of a live virus into a tumor, Forsyth said.

"We're going to do some more studies in mice and rats and probably in monkeys to make sure the virus is safe to put directly into the (human) brain. So far the mice look fine, and mice are very closely related to people. But of course they're not people," Forsyth said.

In an editorial accompanying the study in the journal, Dr. Matthias Gromeier of Duke University praised the "very encouraging results," but cautioned that it still is too early to know whether the reovirus may have some dirty little secrets that could manifest themselves in the human body.

"There is justified concern that intracerebral inoculation (an injection into the brain) of reovirus preparations in humans may unleash unknown properties of these agents or provide a suitable milieu promoting adaptation events that give rise to altered pathogens with new properties," Gromeier said.

The University of Calgary researchers used the live reovirus against 24 brain tumor cell lines in culture, and it killed 20 of them.

It also destroyed all nine cell cultures of gliomas removed from human patients. Tested against another type of brain tumor (meningiomas), it was ineffective. Glioma cell cultures getting dead reovirus or no virus also were unaffected.

The reovirus worked against human tumors implanted into mice. Following a single injection of live reovirus into the tumors, nine of 11 mice were alive after 90 days.

The clinical trials will be sponsored by Calgary-based Oncolytics Biotech Inc. (Vancouver:ONC.V - news), which owns the patent to use the virus as an anti-cancer treatment, Forsyth said.

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