MicroRNAs make for safer cancer treatments

Oct 26, 2008

Viruses -- long regarded solely as disease agents -- now are being used in therapies for cancer. Concerns over the safety of these so-called oncolytic viruses stem from their potential to damage healthy tissues. Now Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered a way of controlling the viruses behind potential cancer therapeutics. They are engineering the virus's genetic sequence, using microRNAs to restrict them to specific tissues. The microRNAs destabilize the virus's genome, making it impossible for the virus to run amok. The discovery is reported in the current issue of Nature Medicine.

"Our findings demonstrate a new tool for molecular medicine that should also help allay concern over the use of viruses as a therapeutic delivery system," says Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo physician-scientist and lead author of the study.

MicroRNAs are the nucleotide snippets that are encoded by genes, but don't end up as proteins. In many cases, they have a role in down-regulating different cellular genes. In this case, a virus is engineered to be responsive to microRNAs that are present in certain cell types. Using this new form of targeting, researchers redirected a virus normally responsible for a lethal muscle infection to recognize only cancer cells. The laboratory mice that received the engineered virus were cured of established tumors and suffered no ill effects.

Significance of the research

Most viruses can infect different cell types, which leads to the array of symptoms during a viral infection. Now as viruses are being engineered for use as vaccines, cancer therapeutics and gene therapy vectors, researchers want to restrict and redirect the types of cells they do (or don't) infect as additional safeguards against disease. The target sequences of microRNAs used in the study kept the virus from destroying muscle cells while allowing viral replication to proceed in cancer cells allowing the virus to completely cure mice with melanoma.

The Mayo researchers say microRNA target insertion may be a new way to make viruses safer for use in cancer therapy and could lead to new methods of making safer vaccines.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Explore further: Auditory deprivation from hearing loss may cause cognitive decline

Related Stories

Report details benefits of investment in basic research

Apr 27, 2015

Last year was a notable one for scientific achievements: In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle that sheds light on the origins of the universe, and the European Space Agency ...

Inoculating against science denial

Apr 27, 2015

Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused ...

Recommended for you

Stem cell therapy for inherited skin blistering

17 minutes ago

Promising results from a trial of a new stem-cell based therapy for a rare and debilitating skin condition have been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The therapy, involving infusions of ste ...

Simple recipe to make sensory hair cells in the ear

48 minutes ago

Scientists at the Molecular Medicine Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, and at the University College London Ear Institute, United Kingdom, have developed a simple and efficient protocol to generate inner ear hair cells, the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.