Herpes Virus Opens “Whole New World of Treatment” for Brain Cancer

Herpes Virus Opens “Whole New World of Treatment” for Brain Cancer

By Admin at 29 Feb 2016, 12:57 PM

Glioblastoma is the most common type of brain cancer. It’s often aggressive and has a median survival time of under 15 months on average. This type of cancer is particularly difficult to treat because the tumor has finger-like tentacles, making it challenging to remove with surgery.

Its location in the brain adds another challenge, as the tumor may be near brain regions that control language, coordination and other important functions. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are offering new hope for treatment in this area using an unlikely “weapon” – herpes virus.

Past studies have used viruses including herpes and polio to directly attack and kill cancer cells. The current research is different, as it’s using the herpes virus as an immunostimulant to attract the body’s own cancer-fighting cells to the tumor.

As Dr. Antonio Chiocca, an American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) Scientific Advisory Council member from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained, “brain cancer cells are especially good at evading the immune system.”

As such, their treatment also involves the use of “check point inhibitors” to inhibit the cancer’s ability to evade the immune system. Massachusetts General Hospital Neurosurgery Chairman Dr. Robert Martuza explained:


“It’s a very exciting area, this whole concept of teaching the body to reject the tumor using the immune system … I think it’s going to be a whole new world of treatment.”

Martuza and colleagues have been working on this new approach for decades. In a 2013 study published in the journal Neoplasia, for instance, researchers wrote, “Oncolytic herpes simplex virus (oHSV) can potentially spread throughout the tumor, reach isolated infiltrating cells, kill them, and deliver anticancer agents.”

One of the challenges the researchers faced was developing a virus that was strong enough to kill the tumor cells without harming the brain. They have since discovered a way to disable the virus if it starts to infect healthy cells and are even able to program the virus to shut itself off.

If the process is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), clinical trials in humans could start this year.

Because glioblastoma is one of the most challenging cancers to treat, if you or a loved one is diagnosed you should seek out an expert opinion, preferably from a provider who specializes in treating this type of cancer. For instance, there is some evidence that the MGMT gene plays a role, and patients who have this gene “shut off” may have improved survival rates. ABTA noted:


“ … not all glioblastomas have the same biologic abnormalities. This may be the reason different patients respond differently to the same treatment and why different patients with the same tumor have different outcomes.


Researchers continue to study the common characteristics of long-term brain tumor survivors, and how personalized and targeted treatments may be optimally used to treat brain tumor patients.”


There may also be clinical trials currently accepting patients with glioblastoma. You can search for these, for starters, using ABTA’s Trial Connect or by talking with your health care provider.


Boston Herald January 13, 2016
Neoplasia. 2013 Jun; 15(6): 591–599.
American Brain Tumor Association, Glioblastoma




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