Alberta research find common gut virus may be potent cancer fighter

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Alberta scientists have discovered a common virus may have potent properties to fight an incurable form of blood-cell cancer, the Calgary Herald reports.

Researchers at the University of Calgary and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre are looking at how reovirus could be used to treat multiple myeloma, which impairs the production of normal blood cells in bone marrow.

The Herald says researchers have been studying the potential cancer-fighting properties of reovirus, which normally causes mild gastrointestinal illness with flu-like symptoms, for more than a decade. Most of the previous work has focused on how it could be used against solid tumors, such as prostate and breast cancer.

More recent work has looked at its effectiveness in blood-tissue cancers, says the study's lead author, Dr. Don Morris, an oncologist with Alberta Health Services.

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The team's research found the virus attacked cancer cells without affecting healthy stem cells in bone marrow, said co-author Chandini Thirukkumaran of the University of Calgary's Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute.

"The virus appears not to affect healthy cells, unlike radiation and chemotherapy," Morris said in a release by the university.

Significantly, the reovirus also multiplied.

"The virus will multiply and attack another (cancer) cell that is nearby, it keeps on going, which is encouraging," Thirukkumaran said. "Chemotherapy drugs, there is a limited dose that patients can take because it affects the normal cells along with the cancer cells."

Scientists hope their research will lead to an early-phase clinical trial using reovirus to treat multiple myeloma. It's already being tried on lung and prostate cancer.

Multiple myeloma represents about one per cent of all cancers, the university said in its release, with about 2,400 cases diagnosed annually in Canada.

The results of the research were published in the August issue of Clinical Cancer Research.