In a new project, researchers from LIFE -- the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen -- document that the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) plays a previously unknown dual role in the prevention of a number of cancers. The new findings show that the virus both kills cancer cells and stops the expression of the molecules which certain types of cancer cells produce to hide from the immune system.
Certain types of cancer cells express far too many liquid immunostimulatory molecules, blocking the immune system's ability to recognize them, and enabling them to continue the development of cancer.
"The overexpression seen in cancer types such as melanoma, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer and certain types of leukemia significantly impairs the immune system, thereby reducing the patient's chance of recovery," says associate professor in immunology Sψren Skov from LIFE.
Skov is heading a research team which has just launched a major European project to study the potential for improving cancer treatment by strengthening the immune system.
As part of the research project, PhD student Helle Jensen has infected human cancer cells with VSV.
"We were able to demonstrate that the virus kills cancer cells. The results also show that VSV effectively blocks the production of the immunostimulatory molecules which certain types of cancer overexpress to destroy the immune system and thus the chances of survival," Skov says.
Researchers believe the work is a major step towards better cancer treatment. The advance would enable the immune system to stop the development of cancer more effectively. In addition, it is possible to mutate the virus and adapt it to the relevant type of cancer. There is thus a potential for a future alternative to chemotherapy, tailored to the individual patient, says Skov.
"The next step will be clinical trials in humans. Such trials are already being conducted in the USA," says Jensen, who has carried out the research project at LIFE in collaboration with the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and the National Veterinary Institute at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).
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