Friday, 22 June 2012

Cytomegalovirus: How using its talents could help treat Cancer


        Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is an extremely common herpes virus which if we were tested for, we would probably have it. It is practically harmless and the symptoms only become observable when the host of CMV also has HIV or other immune system problems. The combination of CMV and HIV can be fatal leading to cases of CMV retinitis which can cause blindness.


New and insightful medical research is being done to really explore the consequences of CMV, Paul Moss at the university of Birmingham and his team conducted studies of elderly people above the age of 65. 70% of them were CMV positive and these people experienced a 4 year reduction in lifespan.


CMV is unique as it has the ability to trigger new immune responses every time it activates itself in a host. This means that it is less vulnerable to being attacked by strong immune defenses which have been programmed to fight it. Researchers say that this 'ability' is aging out immune systems.


The American Association of Immunologists saw a positive side to CMV's ability, Khanna and Qiu have cleverly conducted research into using a genetically tailored CMV to attack cancerous tumour cells which are left by the hosts immune defense mechanisms. The immune system sees the cancerous cells as familiar and hence leaves them be.

The team modified a protein expressed by over 90 per cent of melanoma tunours so that the body could treat it as a foreign body but still recognise it as tumour cell. They then installed this genetic code for this particular protein into the cytomegalovirus. This was then tested on mice which when used saw the lifespan increase from around 25 days to 2 months, which is a great success.


This method keeps the immune systems defense against the cancerous cells constant as it triggers new responses. A definite medical breakthrough!


More info:
Paul Moss: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/cancer/moss-paul.aspx
CMV virus: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/cmv1.shtml
Challenges of Cancer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01hn6rf/Great_Ormond_Street_Series_2_A_Difficult_Line/

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