In order to treat breast cancer, we are using virral toxins

In order to treat breast cancer, we are using virral toxins ...

With the help of two additional grants from the National Institutes of Health, Sanford Burnham Prebys professorCharles Spruck and his team are developing a cutting-edge breast cancer therapy. The new approach, known as viral mimicry, is stifling the body into thinking that it has a viral infection, thus stimulating immune responses that can assist the body fight cancer and improve the effects of other therapies.

The modern cancer therapy relies on multiple therapy methods to reduce resistance risk, so the advantage here is that while we have found that our approach, called anti-tumor, is effective in nature, therefore it may work in tandem with other therapies, according to Spruck. In this respect, unlike chemotherapy, this treatment will not damage healthy cells, thus also limiting adverse side effects.

Breast cancer in ER+ is untreated, but is usually recursive.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world, and over 70% of all breast cancer cases are ER+, indicating that cancer cells utilize estrogen to grow. In the United States, there are around three million people who have breast cancer.

ER+ tumors depend on hormones to thrive, but they can be inhibited with anti-hormone therapies that are significantly less effective than standard chemotherapy. Generally, early-stage ER+ breast cancer is usually responsive to treatment, but a significant proportion of patients go on to have a relapse when the cancer returns, often traveling to other areas of the body. These relapses often occur many years after the initial cancer is gone.

Spruck believes there is always a possibility of a relapse that might resist treatment and eventually kill survivors. It''s a frightening prospect to live with, especially if youre is otherwise healthy and cancer-free. We need to develop better, less toxic treatments.

Useful viruses are in our genome

The new approach takes advantage of a strange evolutionary feature of our genome called endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). These are small, repeated sections in our genome that were left behind by viruses infecting our ancient ancestors. Instead, they help control gene expression by moving around and inserting themselves into different locations in our genome.

Because ERVs are often silent, meaning that proteins they encode are not expressed in the body. However, researchers have discovered that it is possible to reactivate these fragments in cancer cells and induce the body into developing an immune response.

According to Spruck, the body believes there is an infection that puts the immune system in high gear. This makes cancer cells more responsive to immunotherapy and can slow tumor growth, but without the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.

Bringing viral mimicry to the clinic

The team will more fully examine how viral mimicry can be used to combat ER+ breast cancer. It is also working on transforming its approach, which has only been studied in a lab setting, into a medication that can be administered in the clinic.

Were still a few years out from using this in the clinic, but weve seen that it works in the lab, and once it makes it into the clinic, it will be safer and less harmful than other treatment options, according to Spruck.

The researchers are optimistic that this technique will be applicable to other cancers beyond ER+ breast cancer.

We discovered the path in breast cancer, but the fact is that with a few exceptions, the majority of tumors are cold for most cancers, according to Spruck. Were not simply improving breast cancer treatment, but were creating a new way of approaching cancer.

The primary goals of the research are focusing on ER+ breast cancer through induced viral infected blood (R01 CA269339) and on the FBXO44/SUV39H1 pathway in cancer (R01CA267103-01).

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