How specific viruses can kill cancer cells

Washington: Boston University School of Medicine scientists have discovered a mechanism by which specific viruses acting as oncolytic agents can enter and kill cancer cells.

The study was conducted by Ewan F. Dunn, a postdoctoral fellow, under the direction of John H. Connor, an assistant professor of microbiology at BUSM.

The virus, known as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), is being developed in the Connor lab and in other international research laboratories to kill cancer cells. VSV is not a significant human pathogen.

VSV is sensitive to the innate immune response, which causes lymphocytes to release interferon and protect the body from developing an infection. Cancer cells lose the ability to respond in that way, said Dunn.

"When cancer cells transform, they become non-responsive, leaving them vulnerable to viruses attacking the cell and its function," Dunn said.

The team demonstrated was that VSV can switch off that signaling pathway, which suggests that a single viral protein could play a major role in cancer cell death.

The finding featured in the current online edition of the Journal of Virology.