How the deadly Lassa and Ebola viruses could help destroy brain tumour cells

Deadly viruses are being combined with a cancer cell killing virus in trials aimed at destroying glioma brain tumours.

By combining glycoproteins from deadly viruses such as Lassa, Ebola and even Rabies, with the usually innocuous vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), American scientists hope to produce glioma-destroying treatments.

“We've been working with VSV for a number of years, and VSV has always been a really good virus for infecting cancer cells," said Anthony Van den Pol, a Yale neurosurgery professor whose team has tested VSV against cancer in lab animals, as well as in cultures of human cells. Interviewed by The Washington Post, professor Van den Pol continued: “The problem has always been that if VSV gets into the brain, it can cause neurological problems or even death."

By producing a Lassa-VSV chimera (a combination organism of two genomes from different organisms), professor Van den Pol's team discovered that the virus destroyed glioma tumours while leaving healthy brain cells unharmed. Out of five possible chimera viruses, including Ebola-VSV, they found that the Lassa combination worked best in lab trials. Their research was recently published in the Journal of Virology.

Crucially, as is the case with much cutting-edge brain tumour research, its progress and development comes down to a cost issue.

“In my lab, I can make a litre of clean virus for about $100 or $200, but to get a clinical-grade virus would cost about a million dollars, and I just can't find the money,” said Van den Pol.

“It can be difficult to find anyone willing to fund potential treatments at this stage because there is still a chance that Lassa-VSV won't work in humans.”

“The fact that Lassa-VSV targets both glioma and melanoma suggests that the virus could be good at targeting many other types of cancers."

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