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Oncolytic viruses

Oncolytic viruses infect tumour cells, where they can either kill the cell directly or act as a flag to the immune system.

There are currently no oncolytic viruses approved for treating brain tumours within the NHS, but research is ongoing.

Find out more about clinical trials here.

What is an oncolytic virus?

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an oncolytic virus?

Viruses can infect and kill cells. Some naturally occurring viruses, as well as viruses that scientists alter in the lab can infect and kill cancer cells. These are known as oncolytic viruses.

Along with killing the cells directly, the viruses can also alert the immune system to attack the cancer cells. Also Oncolytic viruses (OVs) and adoptive cell therapies (ACT) can be effective when they work together especially against solid tumours.

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A virus to cure cancer? It’s possible! Some viruses can infect cancer cells specifically, and cause them to burst. These are known as oncolytic viruses. Watch the video for more information about this.

Read more about immunotherapies for brain tumours here.

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Our Step by Step interactive guide outlines what happens following a diagnosis, to answer your questions and help you to understand what to expect.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Scientists specially design oncolytic viruses to target and infect cancer cells. Once they are inside cancer cells, they multiply and make the cells burst, and destroy the tumour.

Oncolytic viruses can have two ways of fighting tumors: 

First, they can directly infect and destroy tumour cells,

Second, the virus particles and cell debris may activate the immune system to recognise and eliminate any remaining cancer cells within the body.

Medical experts are testing oncolytic viruses on people with cancer to see if they work and are safe. More trials are necessary to find out safety measures with the treatments.

They allow the immune system to attack tumours. They find and destroy bad cells but leave good cells alone. Some viruses can change and avoid cancer cell defenses, which helps them be effective against resistant tumours.

They may cause some problems like fever, infection, chills, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, aches and pains, tiredness, injection pain and nausea. Some oncolytic viruses may infect healthy cells as well as alert the immune system. They may cause the immune system to attack healthy cells, and carry some infection risk. Patients should always talk to their doctors for a better understanding of the potential risks and side effects of oncolytic viruses.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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