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Oncolytic Viruses Target Pancreatic Stem Cells

Marissa Murtaugh
Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Human embryonic stem cell colonies that are not yet differentiated
Human embryonic stem cell colonies
that are not yet differentiated
A recent study from a team of researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City has found that oncolytic viruses have the potential of killing cancer stem cells, particularly in cases of potentially fatal pancreatic cancer.

Oncolytic viruses are naturally occurring viruses that have been genetically engineered to express tracking genes that can be used as a possible therapy against pancreatic cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are thought to cause disease recurrence and metastases, even after therapy. Oncolytic viruses may be able to provide a safe alternative treatment strategy.

The findings from this study are especially important because of the difficulty in detecting and treating pancreatic cancer in its early stages. The research led by Joyce Wong, MD, a surgical resident at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is the first to evaluate whether genetically-engineered viruses could actually target and eventually kill cancer stem cells. Wong and colleagues presented their findings on Monday at the Digestive Disease Week 2011 meeting in Chicago, Illinois.

“What we learned is that oncolytic viruses have been engineered to selectively target cancer cells and have a low toxicity profile in animal studies,” Wong said in a press release. He added, “Targeting the cancer stem cell may enhance our ability to eradicate tumors and prevent future recurrence of disease.”

The investigators of the study sought to determine whether the viruses containing a marker gene that expresses green fluorescent protein could infect pancreatic cancer stem cells and ultimately kill them. The results of the study were promising, as the researchers were able to show that the viral activity was correlated with green fluorescent protein expression.

Further research is needed to determine if oncolytic viruses when administered in vivo help to eradicate tumors and prevent future disease recurrence.

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