Statistics show more than 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with brain tumors each year and most of these patients have few effective treatment options. Many brain cancers are invasive and inoperable making the prognosis poor for patients. Some chemotherapies and radiation therapies exist, but they often leave malignant cells behind so the tumors return.
Looking for a method doctors could use to target the worst kinds of brain cancer while saving surrounding tissue, the Yale University team focused their attention on a virus normally confined to Central America called vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV for short.
Their research revealed that three days after injecting VSV into the tails of the mice, the human tumor cells were infected and either dying or already dead. Normal brain cells were spared because healthy cells have defense mechanisms which tumors lack that protect them from VSV.
The exact mechanisms VSV uses to locate and destroy cancerous cells are not fully understood yet, but Yale’s investigation revealed it was surprisingly effective at killing some of the deadliest forms of cancer. They are optimistic the process can be adapted for other kinds of cancer as well. However, unlike typical vaccines that cause a harmless immune reaction, VSV shots do cause an active infection – a feature that could limit their use as a cancer treatment.
The researchers say more studies on the safety of this new viral approach and the technology involved are needed before clinical trials on humans can begin, but their work has already been described as potentially groundbreaking. As one expert not connected with the Yale study said,
“You are dealing with 25,000 patients each year who have no hope. Radiation prolongs life some, surgery does somewhat, and chemotherapy is not effective. Any research that takes a new tack is exciting.”
Patients in the US interested in clinical trials testing other new brain cancer treatments can find more information at the ClinicalTrials.gov web site.
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