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Measles Gunning for CancerImagine getting a deadly virus to work for us.

It could happen. Scientists are closer to turning the measles virus into a weapon against cancer.

In the 1970s, while treating children with cancer who also got the measles, doctors noticed the virus had a regressive effect on the tumors. That got scientists interested. 

Since then, researchers have been testing strains of the measles virus on prostate and ovarian cancer, lymphoma, and glioblastoma multiforme, a form of brain cancer.

In the study on glioblastoma, researchers saw that certain strains of the measles virus sought out proteins expressed on tumor cells, entered the tumors, then began killing them. 

But our goal is not to hope certain measles strains will kill cancer cells but to actually bioengineer the virus to attack specific cancers. Now scientists are closer to reaching that goal. Researchers at our university, the University of Texas Medical Branch, along with the Mayo Clinic, have figured out how the virus attaches to and infects cells… an important step in harnessing the virus.

The measles virus has an attachment protein with a head that twists, allowing it to penetrate a host cell. That triggers a second protein which then fuses the virus’s outer membrane to that of the host cell, completing the entry process.

Armed with this knowledge, researchers were then able to create measles virus proteins with different attachment heads. Then, they tested each of these engineered viruses for its ability to infect various cells. The goal is that one day strains of the virus may be engineered to penetrate and kill off specific cancer cells.

In the studies, researchers used weakened, inactive versions of the measles viruses that would not cause disease in people… just like the measles vaccine.

It’s possible what had been a big health threat could become a powerful weapon against cancer.

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Measles virus a weapon against cancer?
University of Texas Medical Branch press release describing this novel work.
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The heads of the measles virus attachment protein move to transmit the fusion-triggering signal
Original article in prestigious scientific journal describing the work performed by UTMB and Mayo Clinic scientists describing structural changes in the attachment protein that allows the virus to enter cells. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology; 18, pp128134, 2011, doi:10.1038/nsmb.1967.
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Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)
Great comprehensive source of information from the National Network for Immunization Information (INII). Table of Contents includes: Understanding the Disease; History of the Vaccine; Effectiveness of the Vaccine among other topics. An excellent resource!
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Reprogrammed viruses as cancer therapeutics: Targeted, armed and shielded.
Review article which gives a broad view of virotherapy for cancer. This article is extensively referenced and illustrated giving a comprehensive view of this emerging field. Nature Reviews Microbiology: 6: 529-540; 2008.
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