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News

Herpes hope for new brain tumour treatment

Society For General Microbiology : 18 June, 2006  (Company News)
A virus that causes brain infections is now being tamed to treat brain tumours, scientists heard at the Society for General Microbiology's 158th Meeting at the University of Warwick, UK.
One of the most common and occasionally fatal causes of brain infections, herpes simplex virus, was until recently considered too dangerous to use as a way of delivering treatments to brain cancers. Now researchers have managed to engineer versions of the virus without any virulence, opening the way up to use extracts of herpes virus as genetically engineered vaccines and for gene therapy.

One possibility is that specially targeted viruses could be encouraged to multiply rapidly inside cancer cells, effectively killing them but sparing the surrounding normal tissues from infection. Another hope is that the viruses could be engineered to carry genetic codes that would deliver 'magic bullet' anti-cancer treatments once activated inside tumour cells.

'It is unlikely that genetically engineered herpes simplex virus on its own will be useful as a sole treatment for brain tumours,' says Prof Richard Whitley from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, USA. 'However it will probably provide a useful platform to allow us to get genes that can make therapeutic chemical messengers such as enzymes and cytokines actually into the brain cells, where they could trigger the body's own defences'.

Most of the work so far has been done on mouse models, but the results are sufficiently convincing that clinical trails in human patients have now started. Constructs made from herpes simplex virus have been tested on 21 volunteers with glioblastoma brain tumours which have failed to respond to conventional therapies.

'None of the volunteers in our Phase I clinical trial showed evidence of brain inflammation even as the doses were raised,' says Prof Whitley. 'Encouragingly, we have seen some evidence of tumours regressing, but the studies are in too early a stage to tell what clinical benefits may eventually be achieved'.

Treatment of brain tumours has changed very little in the last forty years. This new approach may significantly alter the chances of survival.
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