Godzilla versus Mothra

By Sepkowitz, Kent | Newsweek, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Godzilla versus Mothra


Sepkowitz, Kent, Newsweek


Byline: Kent Sepkowitz

Scientists enlist viruses to fight cancer.

Medical research typically is a cautious, restrained affair--but every once in a while, scientists try out a radical idea. Take this one for example: injecting a live virus into someone with cancer on the off chance that the virus might go ahead and kill some cancer cells.

Nuts? Actually this approach, called viral oncolysis, has been around since at least the 1950s, when West Nile virus, thought harmless at the time, was injected into people with an array of advanced and seemingly hopeless cancers. Some got a little better, some a little worse, but the approach fell away, eclipsed by the promising new field of chemotherapy. Safety concerns related to handling and injecting a live virus were of little import at the moment, at least to scientists. (Those who have seen the 2007 Will Smith film I Am Legend will remember that in that fictional scenario, using a virus to treat cancer didn't work out so well, a plot that speaks to fears of a virus gone haywire.)

Well, time to pay attention once more--live virus cancer therapy is back. In a recent preliminary report from San Diego, a small group of patients with advanced liver cancer received doses of vaccinia virus, the same virus injected for more than 200 years to prevent smallpox. Patients were given either a high or low dose; those receiving the larger amount lived significantly longer, suggesting that perhaps the vaccinia was beneficial.

Viruses other than vaccinia are being examined as well, including herpes and adenovirus; the latter is a common cause of gastroenteritis and of pinkeye. …

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