Viruses killing cancer cells: stimulating an immune response within the cancer microenvironment
Using funding from CRUK and Psioxus Therapeutics, a team of researchers from the University of Oxford led by Professor Len Seymour, have recently published a paper in Molecular Therapy Oncolytics.
Researchers from the Department of Oncology have been working on creating a therapeutic virus that can be given to cancer patients intravenously. This anti-cancer virus, known as Enadenotucirev, is able to infect and kill cancer cells, while leaving normal cells unharmed. This approach exploits the natural life cycle of the virus, which lyses infected cells in order to release progeny virus particles, allowing the infection to spread from cell to cell through the tumour. The life cycle of some viruses, such as adenoviruses, is intimately dependent on the activities of the cells they infect, and this provides a range of opportunities to engineer viruses that are only active when they encounter the specific environment of a tumour cell.
The research in the paper focuses on the unique way that this virus kills cancer cells. By using up all of the cancer cells energy resources the cell loses control of its ion pumps and swells by forming a blister at its surface. Along with this unusual death pathway (known as ‘oncosis’), the cell also displays an increased amount of warning signals at its membrane when killed by the virus. Increased “come eat me” signals create an immune stimulatory environment which then is able to activate the body’s immune system.
The work has recently been featured on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science available here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b088b8nn
The paper by Arthur Dyer et al is available here.