A virus has been reprogrammed to attack ovarian cancer cells in mice, effectively destroying tumours.
The virus is from the adenovirus family, which usually infects the respiratory system. By editing the viral DNA, researchers at Cardiff University made it instead infect ovarian cancer cells only, leaving healthy cells untouched.
'We've taken a common, well-studied virus and completely redesigned it so that it can no longer attach to non-cancerous cells but instead seeks out a specific marker protein called αvβ6 integrin, which is unique to certain cancer cells, allowing it to invade them,' said study author Dr Alan Parker of Cardiff University's School of Medicine.
The virus attached to αvβ6 integrin on ovarian cancer cells and used it to enter the cell. Once inside, it hijacked the cell's molecular machinery to replicate itself until the cell burst and new virus particles were released. These new viruses went on to infect other tumour cells, until the tumour was destroyed.
The experiments were carried out in vitro and in living mice, with the hopes of carrying out a trial in humans in five years' time.
Adenoviruses are already in use for treating certain cancers. It is hoped that a similar method could be used to train the virus to attack breast, pancreatic, lung and oral cancers.
Dr Catherine Pickworth from Cancer Research UK, which partially funded the study, said: 'Viruses are nature's nanotechnology and harnessing their ability to hijack cells is an area of growing interest in cancer research. The next step will be more research to see if this could be a safe and effective strategy to use in people.'
The study is published in Clinical Cancer Research.