I am going to detail some interesting information on an unusual approach to fighting cancer, that has it's roots in Ancient Greece.
Hippocrates said :- "give me the power to create a fever and I shall cure any disease." More than 2,500 years later this ancient wisdom has a very technical new name in the area of cancer research -oncolytic virotherapy The surprising outcome, however, is to use the common cold virus as one source of treatment. Who'd have thought that this could be a secret weapon? It's being pioneered by an Australian biotechnology group and my attention was first drawn to it on Current Affairs TV several years ago and repeated more recently.
The medical journal The Lancet, in 1971, reported that a Hungarian chicken farmer, who was suffering from advanced colorectal cancer, went into spontaneous remission when he was infected by an avian virus (ie. bird flu). At first, he was seen as some kind of faith healer and invited others to his farm to be cured. Only relatively recently have scientists clinically examined the interaction between viruses and cancer.
Associate Professor Darren Shafren of the University of Newcastle has been looking at the phenomenon for the better part of 15 years. "Even though a lot of the cases seemed anecdotal, there was something in it," he says. "This phenomenon has always been there but with the latest tools and technologies we have, we can match the right virus with the right cancer."
Shafren is the chief scientific officer with a company called Viralytics, which has been conducting trials using a virus to treat cancer patients. His work is focused on the coxsackievirus, one of the causes of the common cold. "It's a small virus, it's about one-billionth of the size of a table tennis ball," he says. "If you look at it under an electron microscope, it looks a bit like a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. The beauty with this particular virus is that it attacks cancer cells."
"If you look at a one-centimetre tumour, there is something in the order of 10 billion cancer cells in there but it's the size of a marble," Shafren says. "Micrometastases are a collection of maybe a couple of hundred cells. You'll never see them - they're too small. But the virus can detect those cells and do a mopping operation."
So it has way less side effects than chemotherapy and doctors can use it in combination to improve reoovery rates. Sixteen terminally ill cancer patients took part in the researcher's first human trials, in which a small dose of the virus was administered. Some were stabilised and, more importantly, showed no serious side effects from the treatment. Phase two trials are now under way on 63 patients in the US. The US was chosen for the trials because the country represents about 50 per cent of the global market for cancer therapies.
The downside is you get given a cold every time you get treated and that is a bit debilitating, but then again, you may eventually get stabalised or go into remission. Now all manner of other viruses are being considered to be trialled on all manner of different cancers. This could potentially be an exciting new frontier in the war on cancer.
We may still be finding our way, but the map and the route are becoming much clearer. Let's join in wishing these pioneers every success.