Scientists have studied and proved that a common virus can infect and kill breast cancer stem cells.
“Cancer stem cells are essentially mother cells,” explains Dr. Lee, Cameron Chair in Basic Cancer Research at Dalhousie Medical School. “They continuously produce new cancer cells, aggressively forming tumours even when there are only a few of them.”
Cancer stem cells are very difficult to kill because they respond badly to radiation and chemotherapy. Regular cancer cells in a tumor can be killed, but the disease will always come back if there are cancer stem cells present.
The researchers have recently found that human reovirus, which is a common virus that does not cause disease, targets and kills cancer stem cells in breast cancer tissue. This virus selectively infects and kills cancer cells without causing harm to healthy cells.
“We suspected that reovirus might be effective against cancer stem cells, because we have shown time and again how well it destroys regular cancer cells,” said Dr. Lee.
While killing cancer cells and stem cells, the human reovirus also activates the anti-cancer immune system. Researchers are looking for a way to let the virus infect and kill cancer cells while the immune system also attacks cancer cells. “Refining this two-pronged approach to killing cancer is our next step,” says Dr. Lee. “We are taking advantage of the natural characteristics of reovirus and the immune system itself to create a powerful virus-based anti-cancer therapy."
This study is published in the current issue of Molecular Therapy.