Friday February 16 12:29 AM ET
"Study: Herpes Virus Helps Kill Skin Cancer Cells"
Study: Herpes Virus Helps Kill Skin Cancer Cells
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - A common virus that causes cold sores
could be a new weapon in the fight against metastatic melanoma,
a skin cancer that has spread to other parts of the body,
researchers in Scotland said on Friday.
The herpes simplex virus is one of a family of viruses that
carry DNA which causes infections. Genital herpes, shingles and
chickenpox result from similar viruses.
Doctors are already using the herpes simplex virus to treat
patients suffering from glioma, a type of brain cancer. New
research by scientists at the University of Glasgow shows that
a disabled herpes virus, or one that doesn't cause cold sores,
can kill skin cancer cells.
"We have proved that if you bring the virus into direct
contact with the (cancerous) cells it appears to kill them,"
Professor Rona MacKie told Reuters.
"I see this as quite likely to play a part in the
management of patients with melanoma in the future. What we
have to sort out is what stage in recognition of the
development of melanoma is best to start using this," she added
in a telephone interview.
Very Early Days
MacKie tested the disabled herpes virus on five patients
with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Their
research is reported in The Lancet medical journal. In all of
the patients the cancer had spread and they had lumps or
secondary tumors that were close to the surface of the skin.
The researchers injected the disabled virus and a harmless
saline solution directly into two tumors on each patient to
compare the results.
They varied the number of injections and the time period
over which they gave them to the patients. When the lumps were
removed and examined the scientists discovered that the virus
did what they had expected -- it killed melanoma cells.
In patients given more injections the damage to the
cancerous cells was greater.
"It is very early days," said MacKie. "The important thing
is that it (the virus) has done no harm and, over and above
that, we have shown that looking down a microscope it appears
to kill melanoma cells."
MacKie said the herpes virus tends to attack two types of
cells. One type is derived from the nervous system, which
melanomas are, and the other type is cells that are rapidly
dividing which is a characteristic of cancer.
Now that the researchers have proven that the treatment is
safe they are planning further trials to determine the optimum
Although melanomas account for only about 10 percent of
skin cancers they cause up to 85 percent of skin cancer deaths.
Cases of the disease have increased more during the past decade
than any other cancer, except lung cancer in women.
Sunbathing and too much exposure to the sun's harmful UVA
and UVB rays increase the risk of melanoma. Half of the cases
of the disease are in people under 50.
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