Researchers at Mayo Clinic, working with colleagues in Germany, have discovered a way to fight cancer by using parts of a virus found in tree shrews, small Southeast Asian mammals.
The researchers used the virus to create a disguise for an engineered measles virus that enables it to sneak past the immune system. It kills cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
The work is still experimental. But it is a key step forward in the science of redirecting or retargeting a virus through genetic engineering.
Retargeted measles virus can recognize surface molecules found only on cancerous cells, allowing selective killing.
In this way, retargeted cancer-killing viruses help the body, rather than harming it as natural viruses do when they infect cells.
The research is published in the Journal of Virology.
Our groups perspective is to exchange pieces on the envelope, the viral coat, with the pieces from the coat of a related virus that has no known relatives that can infect humans, says Roberto Cattaneo, lead researcher. If we can modify the virus and take parts from the Tupaia paramyxovirus ( the shrew virus ) and put them on the measles virus, then we have a virus in stealth. It will not be recognized by the immune system because its disguised in another coat -- and that way we can get the virus past the immune system.
A different Mayo Clinic research team was the first to engineer a measles virus retargeted at the cell entry level and reported on this earlier this year.
The current investigation takes the technology a step closer to being useful to human patients by paving the way to get the retargeted measles virus past the immune system so it can actually reach the tumor and destroy it.
Source: Mayo Clinic, 2005