Boston Herald (MA)
Volume 34, Issue 13
January 13, 2016
Fighting brain cancer with herpes virus
‘Whole new world of treatment’
Author: LINDSAY KALTER
Local researchers may soon use a version of the herpes virus combined with a powerful stimulant to jump-start the immune system to fight a sneaky and often deadly form of brain cancer.
“It’s a very exciting area, this whole concept of teaching the body to reject the tumor using the immune system,” said Massachusetts General Hospital Neurosurgery Chairman Dr. Robert Martuza. “I think it’s going to be a whole new world of treatment.”
Scientists from MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a three-pronged approach to treat glioblastoma, which killed U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau.
The virus would be injected into the tumor to attack and destroy cancer cells. But unlike other treatments that use viruses like polio to wipe out cancer, this approach would use a so-called immunostimulant to bring cancer-fighting molecules to the affected area, and “check point inhibitors” that would suppress the cancer’s ability to trick the immune system.
If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a clinical trial for humans would be underway starting this year, Martuza said.
“The idea is that as the body is rejecting the virus, it learns to reject the cancer cells,” he said. “It doesn’t have the toxicity of chemotherapy.”
Scientists have used modified viruses to destroy various types of cancer over the years. The FDA approved a viral treatment for melanoma in October, and Duke University has conducted clinical trials using polio to treat glioblastoma.
Martuza led the first-ever research effort that used this tactic to tackle brain tumors, with a 1991 publication in the journal Science.
Since then, he and his colleagues have worked to make the approach more sophisticated and less dangerous.
Brain cancer cells are especially good at evading the immune system, said Brigham and Women’s Hospital Chief of Neurosurgery Dr. Antonio Chiocca, who is working on the new treatment with Martuza.
Earlier versions of this type of virus have been injected into brain tumors since the early 2000s, but none were strong enough to be effective.
“The problem was, we were always worried about causing a bad effect on the brain,” Chiocca said.
But there are now better methods of disabling the virus if it begins infecting healthy cells, he said, including ways to program the virus to shut itself off.
Glioblastoma is the most common type of malignant brain cancer and typically results in death in the first 15 months after diagnosis, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Copyright (c) 2016 Boston Herald
Record Number: 28744003