Research funded by The Brain Tumour Charity has proved for the first time that a naturally-occurring virus can cross the blood-brain barrier in humans and attack tumour cells in the brain
The study, led by scientists at the University of Leeds and the Institute of Cancer Research, offers the hope of more effective treatments for some of the most aggressive types of brain tumour, including glioblastoma.
Publishing their results today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers say they found that 'reovirus' could also stimulate the body's own immune system into fighting brain tumour cells.
It does not harm healthy cells and causes only mild flu-like symptoms in patients.
For the Leeds and ICR research project, reovirus was injected via a drip into the bloodstreams of nine people before surgery for a brain tumour. Samples taken from all nine during their operations showed evidence that the virus had reached the tumour.
The samples also showed that those who received reovirus had higher levels of interferons - proteins that 'switch on' the body's immune system.
Dr Adel Samson, co-lead author of the research paper, said: “This is the first time it has been shown that a therapeutic virus is able to pass through the brain-blood barrier, and that opens up the possibility this type of immunotherapy could be used to treat more people with aggressive brain cancers."
A clinical trial is now under way in which patients will be given reovirus in combination with the standard radiotherapy and chemotherapy after surgery.
One patient with glioblastoma is already receiving the combined therapy. He will receive a total of 16 doses of virus alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Dr David Jenkinson, Chief Scientific Officer for The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “We have been co-funding this study into the possible use of reovirus to treat high-grade brain tumours since it began in 2014.
“We are excited by the promising results announced today by the teams in Leeds and at the ICR.
“Their findings, and the clinical trial which is now under way, will be welcomed by all of those who know the devastating impact of brain tumours and the urgent need for more effective treatments."
The Brain Tumour Charity co-funded the research along with organisations including CRUK and Brain Tumour Research and Support Across Yorkshire.
Professor Susan Short from the University of Leeds (pictured) talks about this research and the forthcoming clinical trials. Listen here