“Bait and switch” approach stimulates immune attack on cancer

December 20, 2017

Oncolytic (cancer-fighting) viruses have shown promise in the lab and the clinic because they can directly kill cancer cells while also stimulating the immune system to attack the cancer. Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo and his team recently discovered a novel approach to enhance this immune attack. They found that simple compounds containing the element vanadium can reprogram the immune system during oncolytic virus therapy, making it more likely to attack the tumour than the virus. In effect, the virus “baits” the immune system by triggering the tumour’s interferon defense system, while the vanadium “switches” this natural alarm signal into one that favours immune attack onto the tumour as opposed to the virus. In some mouse cancer models, this approach could cure 80 percent of animals, much higher than either the virus or vanadium on its own. This approach remains unproven in humans, but it could be tested relative quickly, as vanadium compounds have already proven safe in human clinical trials for diabetes. See Molecular Therapy for details.

Authors: Selman M, Rousso C, Bergeron A, Son HH, Krishnan R, El-Sayes NA, Varette O, Chen A, Le Boeuf F, Tzelepis F, Bell JC, Crans DC, Diallo JS.

Acknowledgements: This research was possible because of generous support from the community for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. This study was also funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Terry Fox Research Institute, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation and BioCanRx.

More info: Viral therapy for cancer: Frequently asked questions from patients and families

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