According to Cancer Research UK, there are approximately 11,000 new cases of primary brain cancer diagnosed in the UK every year. With just 14 per cent of these patients surviving for 10 years or more, it is imperative that we find a cure or new treatments for this cruel disease.
Scientists working at the University of Leeds and four other centres have made a discovery using a reovirus. By injecting a flu-like virus directly into the bloodstream of the patient, they found that it infects the cancer cells but leaves the healthy cells alone. The virus then helps to build up the body’s immune system and alerts it to attack the cancerous cells. Our immune system is generally not very good at spotting cancer, as cancer cells look very much like our own body cells, but it is very good at spotting a virus. By injecting the virus, the cancer cells became more visible to the immune system.
This treatment has been used on nine patients, who were volunteers with either very aggressive brain tumours called glioblastoma or fast-growing gliomas that have regrown despite chemo, radiotherapy and surgery. The results show that the reovirus passed successfully through the protective membrane that surrounds the brain and reached the cancerous target. The immune system then switched on and attacked the tumour. Although it is early days, the results appear positive. This therapy would not cure the cancer; instead, it could be another form of treatment to give the patient a longer life.
Further clinical trials are required to see whether the cancer cells can be killed off altogether and help more people to survive from brain tumours in the long term. The findings so far have encouraged more doctors to trial a full course of treatment, which may involve clinical trial volunteers registered with organisations such as http://www.trials4us.co.uk/.
Experts believe that other relatively harmless viruses could work even better than the flu-virus to prime the body to fight against these harmful and aggressive cancers. Brian tumours are costing too many lives, as are other cancers. This research has a vital role to play if we are ever going to find cures for this and all the other devastating diseases we face. Without scientists and the organisations that support them, none of this research would be possible.