For over 100 years, scientists have been investigating reports of cancers that have miraculously shrunk or disappeared after patients contracted certain viruses. Can viruses cure cancer? And if so, through what mechanism?
Rapid advances in understanding cell biology have helped scientists not only understand the mechanism of viruses, but to genetically modify these viruses to be safe, stimulate a patient’s immune system and target and kill cancer cells. These are called oncolytic viruses. Re-engineered versions of the polio and herpes viruses are already being studied for use in childhood brain tumours and solid cancers elsewhere in the body.
Without a doubt, it is an exciting time in medicine as scientists make new discoveries in cancer research. The key will be to bring novel therapies, such as oncolytic viruses, to more children with the deadliest childhood cancers through clinical trials.