Nishant Bora
Sep 13, 2011

A breakthrough in research to cure cancer

I felt my hands tied a few months back when I lost my uncle to cancer. Although there has been no dearth of studies, research or experiments carried out to find a cure for the disease, it is still, as we know, unconquered by medicine. Treatments in the forms of chemo and radio therapies offer help mostly in the formative and initial stages of the disease. And these therapies can cause harmful side effects in patients already coping with the cancer itself.

Recently, however, a team of researchers at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) in Canada found a promising new potential treatment for cancer. The experimental oncolytic virus, named JX-594, has natural anti-cancer properties that have been genetically enhanced by the research team to increase the virus’s therapeutic effect. The virus has been designed to grow only in cancer cells and not in normal cells.

The virus, which can be administered intravenously, was tested in one of five dosage levels in over 23 cancer patients. These were patients with cancer in multiple organs, for whom other treatments had failed to help, and who were in the final stages of the disease. When the patients were biopsied 10 days later, the virus was reported to have found 87 percent of the tumors and destroyed 70 percent of them, whether the patients had breast, pancreatic or other forms of cancer.

When the results were tested, the researchers found that in seven out of the eight patients who were administered the highest doses, the virus was replicating in their tumors and not in their normal tissues. In six of those patients, there was evidence of the shrinking and stabilization of their tumors. A few of the 23 patients experienced moderate flu-like symptoms that lasted less than a day, but none suffered significant side effects.

An exciting possibility with this viral therapy is that if the virus finds and destroys cancer cells in a patient and cancer cells grow again, it may again work upon and destroy them. Therefore, it could work almost like a vaccine.

"Intravenous delivery is crucial for cancer treatment because it allows us to target tumors throughout the body as opposed to just those that we can directly inject," said Dr. John Bell, a senior scientist at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

But researchers still cannot ensure that our immune systems will not work against and destroy the virus before it kills the cancer cells.

The Canadian Cancer Society and others are supporting research on this viral therapy with millions of dollars in funding to complete its different stages before the therapy can be approved by Canada Health as a cancer treatment.