It is often found that the most unexpected things can help fight an illness. Scientists have gone to astonishing measures to prevent and cure numerous diseases, from creating vaccines using the actual antigen of the infection to, more recently, killing brain tumors with the herpes virus.
The most common brain tumor in adults is glioblastoma multiforme. It is also the hardest to treat. In 2014, scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) set their minds to finding a cure for the tumor, and what they discovered was startling.
Glioblastoma multiforme is a fastgrowing, nongenetic brain tumor that damages the frontal and temporal lobes, thus causing issues with memory and personality. Glioblastoma multiforme accounts for 15% of all brain tumor cases, and fewer than 25% of these patients survive for two years, with only 10% surviving for five years. The current process for treating a brain tumor is to resect the tumor and then administer chemo or radiation therapy.
A team of HSCI researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital has been experimenting with using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and cancerkilling viruses as treatment for glioblastoma multiforme. MSCs are multipotent, bone marrow cells that can be utilized to carry cancerkilling viruses, such as oncolytic herpes (oHSV), into a patient’s tumorous cells. In their experiments on glioblastoma multiforme in mice, the scientists formed gel capsules of mesenchymal stem cells injected with oncolytic herpes virus. Encapsulating the MSCs into gels was much more effective than directly attacking the tumor cells with the herpes virus, since the gels protected the stem cells from any damage that the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain might have caused, such as decomposing or drifting away from the tumor site. The herpes laden MSCs were applied to the mice’s glioblastoma multiforme, and the mice survived.
Although the mice survived the application of the gels, more clinical trials must be conducted before this cure can be proven effective in treating humans. Scientists now know that not encapsulating the herpes virus and MSCs into gels was what contributed to their failures in past clinical trials. Despite their success in treating the mice’s glioblastoma multiforme, scientists found that some brain tumors were resistant to the herpesvirus and therefore were not killed by the herpesMSC gels. As a result, the researchers developed another potential curing agent called TRAIL. The TRAIL agent was a manipulation of the oncolytic herpes virus so that it could kill other brain tumors.
The effectiveness of the herpes virus and TRAIL methods will also be tested on other solid tumors, such as breast, lung, and skin tumors. To test these potential cures, doctors will offer cancer patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials, providing them with access to a possible cure after all other options have been exercised. These clinical trials will give doctors the chance to experiment with a potentially groundbreaking idea– using the herpes virus to treat brain tumors.
Discovering the effectiveness of the herpes virus as a treatment for brain tumors is a huge breakthrough for the medical world. If the clinical trials for the other solid tumors are successful, this virus might just be the answer– the shocking, unexpected answer– to the suffering of cancer patients all over the world.