Researchers uncover possible new mechanism to enhance cancer-killing viruses

July 11, 2018

Dr. Carolina Ilkow in a labCancer-killing (oncolytic) viruses have shown promise in the lab and the clinic, but they don’t always work. New research led by Dr. Carolina Ilkow could help change this.

While normal cells often lose their first line of antiviral defenses when they become cancerous, Dr. Ilkow and her team discovered that many cancer cells maintain an ancient antiviral defense mechanism called RNA interference. In essence, they cut up viral genetic material, destroying the virus. This kind of antiviral defense is very important in plants, fungi and insects, but was thought to be less important in mammals.

Dr. Ilkow and her team created a virus that blocks RNA interference and found that it was much better at killing cancer cells, while still being harmless to normal cells. This research could lead to the development of better cancer-fighting viruses, as well as biomarkers to determine if an individual’s cancer will be susceptible.

We’ve shown for the first time that many cancer cells use a very different approach than normal cells to defend against viruses,” said Dr. Ilkow, a scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “We hope to exploit this weakness to develop better cancer-fighting viruses.”

Reference: Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer

Authors: Bastin D, Aitken AS, Pelin A, Pikor LA, Crupi MJF, Huh MS, Bourgeois-Daigneault MC, Bell JC, Ilkow CS.

Information for patients: Cancer-fighting viruses are still considered experimental and are only available in Canada as part of clinical trials. See these frequently asked questions about clinical trials with cancer-fighting viruses at The Ottawa Hospital.

Funding: This study was possible because of generous donations to The Ottawa Hospital for cancer research. This research was also supported by the Terry Fox Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Cancer Genomics and Immunity Fellowship and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship.

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