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Researchers discover that a virus can naturally target and kill tumors

Mosquitoes are notorious for their ability to spread disease, but in some cases they may prove to be a boon instead of a bane. In a recent study, researchers at New York University School of Medicine found that one mosquito-borne virus automatically targets and kills tumor cells in mice. Most importantly, it does so while leaving healthy cells alone, a feature that may make it a promising treatment for some forms of cancer.

This study involved tumors in mice, and the virus has yet to be tested in humans. Daniel Meruelo, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology at NYU School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study, hopes to begin clinical trials of the virus within about two years. But he stresses that there is still far more work to be done before the virus can be shown to be safe for human application, let alone an effective treatment for human tumors. Mice and humans can respond differently to viruses, he notes.

According to the study, published in the January 2004 issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, the Sindbis virus is effective at killing tumors in mice at every location tested--whether the growths occur under the skin, in the pancreas, in the main body cavity, or in the lungs.

The amount of time and the number of injections needed to cause tumor remission varied, depending on the type of cancer, but in general mice were given injections of the virus daily. Within a month to two months later, many tumors disappeared completely.

The virus, named Sindbis after the Egyptian town where it was first identified, is found in many parts of Asia and Africa. It is carried and transmitted exclusively by mosquitoes, which bite and infect humans and other animals. In humans, the virus causes cold-like symptoms, such as fever and muscle ache, which quickly subside.

Viruses aren't usually thought of as beneficial, but in recent years scientists have started to take advantage of the ability of viruses to infiltrate huma
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Contact: Pam McDonnell
pam.mcdonnell@med.nyu.edu
212-404-3555
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine
30-Jan-2004


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