Volume 92, Issue 44

Friday, November 20, 1998

go north


Calgary prof attempts to fight cancer with virus

By Wes Brown
Gazette Staff

A naturally occurring virus in humans has become the newest hope in the fight against cancer.

Patrick Lee, a professor of virology and cancer biology at the University of Calgary, along with his team of researchers, has discovered a cancer treatment which could lead to a chain reaction to begin cell regeneration of mutated cancer cells.

"I've been working with the reovirus for 20 years, actively looking for a cancer-killing virus," Lee said. The virus binds to the cancer cells and through the Ras pathway, a pathway which tells the cell when to reproduce and divide, begins to regenerate the cell, he added.

Other conventional treatments currently used, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, never totally clear up the cancer, Lee said. He added this is where the reovirus treatment could be the most effective.

"The virus is an infection agent and can destroy [cancer] on its own. So far it works well in mice and theoretically it should be quite effective, but a human is not a mouse," Lee said.

Peter Forsyth, an oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, has also been working with Lee and said although it is easy to test a cure in mice, the same may not hold true for humans.

"There are many issues like immune system responses and virus delivery that have glaring differences between mice and humans. Mice don't complain, humans could have some side effect that would be unbearable," Forsyth said.

Primarily it has been tested on three types of cancer – breast, pancreatic and brain tumours, Forsyth said.

"Our major focus is with the brain and this type of treatment has only been going on in our labs for two years. Living samples [mice] were only introduced last February. We are still at least six years away from what you might consider a widespread 'standard treatment.' There is a lot of great work being done around the country. It takes a long time, but there is hope," Forsyth said.

David Litchfield, associate professor of biochemistry at Western, said there is an extensive amount of excellent work going in cancer research and treatment.

"I am a firm believer in the precise molecular detection of cancer and a rational cure will come from an application of this research. Cancer, however, is a whole bunch of complex diseases," Litchfield said.

Lee said the next step in his research involves clinical trials. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998