The coronavirus pandemic will have increased our fear of the microscopic enemy that viruses are, but the truth is that they can sometimes become our allies.
This is demonstrated by a work published in the specialized medium Cell Reports by a research group from the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center (CBMSO), a joint center of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), which has demonstrated the therapeutic potential of a mouse parvovirus to infect and destroy human glioblastoma stem cells.
This type of brain tumor is considered the most aggressive, and is essentially incurable by current medicine.
Viruses as a weapon
The results represent an important advance in a new personalized and biosafe medicine, that of ‘anti-cancer’ viruses or oncolytic viruses, which selectively infect malignant stem cells . This is one of the most promising lines of work in the search for alternative or complementary cancer treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
So far, the experiment has been carried out on glioblastoma stem cells grown in vitro and obtained from human patients implanted in animal models (humanized mice). Subsequently, these mice were inoculated with two strains of a parvovirus (MVM) that are not pathogenic for humans and that attack cells with certain mutations in the p53 allele responsible for glioblastoma.
How it works is based, on the one hand, on the nature of cancer (which originates from an inherited or acquired genetic mutation) and on the mechanisms by which viruses select the cells they attack (based on their DNA). In this way, natural viruses that attack only cells that carry this mutation can be used , or they can even be genetically modified to do so.
This is the great advantage of oncolytic viruses over other lines of treatment. For example, radiation therapy and chemotherapy not only damage cancer cells, as with these viruses, but also have a significant impact on the rest of the body.