Scientists Create a Genetically Modified Virus That Can Combat Prostate Cancer

Researchers injected a manipulated virus into mice with prostate cancer. The results were very promising.
Chris Young

Approximately 1 in 9 men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime and, after lung cancer, it is the second most common form of cancer in men.

Scientists and researchers work hard every day to look for new ways of combatting the deadly form of cancer. This week, one team has revealed promising findings.

Research, recently published in an article in Gene Therapy, is showing great potential in developing treatments.


Destroying tumor cells

Scientists at the São Paulo State Cancer Institute (ICESP) in Brazil have been able to successfully destroy tumor cells in mice by injecting them with a genetically manipulated virus.

Not only that, but the virus also made tumor cells more receptive to chemotherapy drugs, helping them to almost eliminate tumors in some cases.

The team of researchers was led by Bryan Eric Strauss, head of the Viral Vector Laboratory at ICESP's Center for Translational Research in Oncology (CTO).

Scientists Create a Genetically Modified Virus That Can Combat Prostate Cancer
Source: Marcos Santos/USP IMAGENS

p53: A weapon against cancer

"We used a combination of gene therapy and chemotherapy to combat prostate cancer in mice," Strauss stated. "We chose the weapon we considered most likely to work as a tumor suppressant," he said, referring to p53.

p53, also known as TP53 or tumor protein, is a gene that is vital in controlling cell cycles. As such, it functions as a tumor suppression protein. As it is present in both mice and humans, it is ideal for this type of research.

The gene was inserted into the genetic code of an adenovirus under lab conditions. The genetically manipulated virus was then injected directly into the tumors present in mice.

Testing mice

Strauss outlined how they differentiated the results in mice using the p53-infused virus with those using more traditional drugs:

"First, we implanted human prostate cancer cells in the mice and waited for tumors to grow. We then injected the virus directly into the tumors. We repeated this procedure several times. On two of these occasions, we also systemically administered cabazitaxel, a drug commonly used in chemotherapy. After that, we observed the mice to see if the tumors developed."

An unrelated virus was also administered to some of the mice as a control.

A few caveats

Injecting the virus into a patient's bloodstream is not viable, Strauss claims. The drug has to be injected directly into the tumor.

Treating tumor cells with p53, unfortunately, doesn't guarantee that they will be eliminated.

As such, the treatment, if developed, would have to be combined with other methods. Such a combination could help to avoid the side effects of using only chemotherapy or other drugs, as treatment.

While the research is in its early stages, it is showing great promise as a new method for combating cancer. The research team's next step is considering whether to take their findings into clinical trials with human patients.

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