Can the common cold ever be a good thing? It is if you've figured out a way to genetically engineer the virus so that it fights and kills cancerous cells - while leaving healthy cells intact. That's been the work of Dr. William Wold and his colleagues at Saint Louis University school of Medicine for the last 30 years. "The potential is understandably huge," said Wold, whose work has just received a U.S. patent after years of study.
Dr. Wold, chair of the department of molecular microbiology and immunology, and his colleagues Karoly Toth, Konstantin Doronin, Ann E. Tollefson, and Mohan Kuppuswamy have found a way to convert the relatively benign "adenovirus" that causes the common cold into an anti-cancer drug that attacks and destroys cancerous cells.
"Human cancer is currently treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, depending on the cancer type," Wold said. "These treatments can be highly successful, but new therapies are required, especially for tumors that have become resistant to chemo- or radiation-therapy."
Wold's group has developed several new "adenovirus cancer gene therapy vectors," changing these genes so the virus will attack cancer cells.
"Some of our vectors are designed to destroy many different types of cancers, others are designed to be specific to colon or lung cancer. In preclinical testing these vectors were highly effective against cancerous tumors and did not harm normal tissues."
Wold and his colleagues have done this by modifying one gene so that the virus can grow in cancer cells but NOT normal cells and by boosting the activity of another gene that the virus normally uses to disrupt the cells it has infected. "When the virus infects cells, it takes the altered genes with it, and those genes attack cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact," Wold explained.