Saturday, April 5, 2008

Deadly pathogen or miracle saviour?

Cancer fighting viruses- the ultimate rehabilitation

We all know what a virus is, a microscopic agent which infect host cells in the body. The virus locates certain types of cells due to the different protein coating on the outside. The virus then penetrates the cell and releases its RNA or DNA in with the cells genetic material. The RNA/DNA will then synthesize with host DNA and cause the cell to continually replicate the virus everytime the cell undergoes mitosis. After thousands of replications and the virus has run out of resources, the host cell bursts and releases the many viruses to infect neighbouring healthy cells. This process causes many diseases such as influenza and bird flu. But how can this process benefit humans? More on viruses and how they work see:

Scientists have long thought to utilize the virus as a way to attack cancer and tumour cells. Cancer cells being genetically mutated cells which divide uncontrollably. The studies began in the 1960, however the process was unsuccessful. Often the cancer cells disappeared but the patients would die due to healthy cells been attacked. But now labs all around the world are researching on how to genetically modify a virus to attack cancer cells. The process is to modify the genetic makeup of the virus to only target the cancerous cells. Since viruses are attracted to certain protein expression, scientists then identify the type of proteins expressed exclusively in particular cancer cells. Scientists then try and genetically modify the virus to home in on that type of protein. This way, the viruses only attack cancer cells and are harmless to healthy cells.

However this process isn’t as easy as first thought. There are many problems associated with this technology. First the most harmful problem is the virus attacking healthy cells. This will cause the patients to become sick and possibly death. Also some virus doe not replicate themselves fast enough to destroy the cell. Therefore only certain viruses will be more effective in killing the cells, usually the more dangerous pathogen. The virus itself is in danger from our own immune system. These problems must be overcome to successfully create a cancer-fighting virus. To see more information and answer to these problems see:,9171,1039733-1,00.html

Recently new results have proven very successful and promising. The new virus, NV1020, designed in Germany 2007 has been modified to attack cancer cells while also being safe for healthy cells. Early clinical trials have been proven to successfully reduce and remove cancer from the patients. This virus is a modified type of herpes virus. The virus is naturally very infectious and is able to quickly destroy cancer cells faster. To read more about this new virus go to:

However there are many possible Hollywood horrors that become very real when playing with these viruses. For example, a type of mechanism to avoid the immune system from detecting the virus is coating it in certain proteins to make it ‘invisible’. If the virus mutates and attacks healthy cells, and our body can’t recognise them, this could be the creation of a super virus. This could cause a massive outbreak of disease and death. But is the risk worth taking when the viruses have so much potential to cure cancers?

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