05 February 2006

More Virus vs. Cancer News: From the UK

This older (2004) newscientist.com article describes a genetically modified adenovirus that can infect cancer cells and explode them from the inside. This is simply to show that this research has been ongoing with different viruses in different research labs around the world.

Deleting a key gene from the virus enabled it to infect and burst cancer cells while leaving normal tissues unharmed, reveals a study by researchers at Cancer Research UK and Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London.

Viruses spread by infiltrating the cells of their host. Normally, the detection of an intruder by a cell triggers a process called apoptosis, which causes the cell to commit suicide and prevents the virus spreading further. However, viruses can carry genes that allow them to slip past this cell death process in normal cells, causing infection.

The UK researchers deleted one such gene in an adenovirus. This meant that the virus was immediately detected by normal cells and was unable to spread. But in cancer cells, which grow uncontrollably and ignore the cell death process, the virus was able to thrive and spread rapidly. It then multiplied so vigorously that it killed the cancer cells by making them explode.

"The great thing about this strategy is that the cancer cell does all the hard work," says Nick Lemoine, director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Centre at Bart's Medical School, who led the team. "It makes more and more virus to infect its neighbouring cancer cells. But if a normal cell is infected, it commits suicide before it can make new virus and spread of the virus is contained."

Go here to read the entire article.

Every tool that is developed for manipulating genes, opens more avenues for research into fighting the bio-killers of our day. From research into genes and DNA in the mid 20th century, to research on restriction enzymes and gene manipulation in the 1970s, to the rapid gene mapping of the 1990s, to the ever more advanced genetic manipulations of the 21st century. The breakthroughs from the biotechnology and genetic revolutions are coming. This genetically modified adenovirus will be just one of many to carry the heavy load for humanity.
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