Herpes Virus Now Used By Doctors To Fight Brain Cancer

A new future for the treatment of brain cancer has emerge as herpes virus is now being used to treat brain tumors.

Doctors and scientists all over the world have been trying to harness the power of viruses into positive use for more than 100 years now. However, a new research has now shown that the viruses can be put into good use against the deadliest and most common form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme.

In a new study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), scientists used a genetically modified version of the herpes virus—the same one responsible for cold sores—known as G207 to treat glioblastoma in six pediatric patients.

While it’s still quite early to make a definite conclusion, researchers say there are encouraging results already.

“Thus far, we have found that the virus is safe and tolerable when given alone, and we are seeing evidence suggestive of tumor killing in most of the children treated,” Dr. Gregory Friedman, the lead author and associate professor of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at UAB, told Healthline.

“To me it sounded, you know, pretty absurd,” said patient Nick Tasoglou when he discovered the herpes virus would be used as a treatment method for his brain tumor.

"We do get a lot of looks when we say we're going to be using the herpes virus," said Dr. Friedman.  "But what we've learned is that we can engineer these viruses so that they're safe and can actually be directed, targeted therapy to kill cancer cells."

The typical survival period for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma is 15 months. This usually attributed to the difficulties of surgical interventions, complex tumor structure and problematic biological mechanism in the brain, making the diagnosis a ‘death sentence’.

However, with the current rise in oncolytic viral immunotherapy—which is the use of viruses to destroy cancer cells and provoke an immune system response—there seems to be a much better future for increased survival rate.

The researchers noted that there were “no observed dose-limiting toxicities or serious side effects. Of the six patients, five showed evidence of tumor killing. One continues to show response to the therapy without any other treatment after 18 months.”

To begin the treatment, a biopsy is performed to confirm a recurrent tumor is present, then doctors place catheters to inject G207 directly into the tumor. Cancer cells often avoid detection by the immune system T cells, and that’s why one of the effects of the virus on the cancer is immunologic—meaning it alerts the immune system to the presence of the cancer. After the application, the catheters are then externalized out through the patient's scalp.

"Then the following day, the virus is infused over six hours through the catheters," said Dr. Friedman. 

Once that is completed, the nurses then completely pull out the catheters, the patient then recovers and is monitored as an ‘outpatient’.

On the other hand, STD’s such as herpes are on the rise and according to the latest health data, “In just a decade, the number of gonorrhoea cases annually has more than doubled… (while) in the past decade, syphilis cases have more than tripled, (and) cases of chlamydia have increased by 43 per cent.”

However, people living with STD’s can still enjoy a normal dating environment without stigmas attached to their diagnosis, through the emergence of dating platforms for people living with STD’s like MPWH—which is currently the world’s biggest online dating community for people living with herpes.

Furthermore, now that the virus has been found to be useful in positive effect, Dr. Friedman said that the new treatment is the future of cancer therapy. The process is a summation of over 20 years of research into genetically engineered oncolytic virus by UAB researcher, Dr. James Markert. With the help of his colleagues, they initially described their concept in 2001 and are now leading trials on a second-generation herpes virus called M032.

“There are a lot of advantages of using herpes virus as an oncolytic agent. It is a very well-studied virus. All of the essential and nonessential genes have been identified, and nonessential genes can be removed to make the virus safe for normal cells without removing the ability of the virus to infect and kill cancer cells,” said Friedman.

"The advantage of this type of approach, versus traditional chemotherapy or radiation, which requires continued treatment, is that this is a one-time treatment," said Dr. Friedman.

A one-time treatment that has been shown to not only kill cancer cells but also stimulates the patient's immune system.

“Another important advantage is the virus is very immunogenic and stimulates a robust immune response. As the immune cells are attracted to the area to remove the virus, they can recognize tumor proteins that are present from the virus lysing [destroying] tumor cells and can begin to attack the tumor,” he added.