An Engineered Virus for Childhood Eye Cancer
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Retinoblastoma is a childhood cancer that affects the developing retina. And if left untreated is fatal. In a third of cases, chemotherapy doesn’t work and one or both eyes have to be removed. But scientists are using a modified virus to kill the cancer.

They’re called oncolytic viruses and more are being used to treat cancer. In retinoblastoma, a protein called E-two-F is overproduced causing out of control cell division. Researchers engineered an adenovirus called VCN-zero-one to replicate only in cells with high levels of E-two-F. Adenovirus is a common virus that normally causes mild respiratory disease in humans. But the genetically engineered VCN-zero-one virus not only replicates but kills high E-two-F producing cells.

Promising mouse studies led to a small-scale clinical trial using the virus to treat children with retinoblastoma. These children had chemo-resistant forms of the cancer and were destined for eye removal. In one patient, tumors in the eye appeared to shrink while normal cells and structures in the eye remained intact. The virus also didn’t appear to be reproducing anywhere outside the eye. Another child’s eye was too cloudy to continue treatment. While both these children eventually had to have their eyes removed, the virus allowed at least one child to keep his eye longer.

The plan is to finish the study with thirteen more patients and to use higher doses of the virus. It’s too early to know if this treatment is a cure but it continues to show that oncolytic viruses holds great promise.

For more information…

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