Scientists have found a new ally to help them fight glioblastomas, which is a hard to treat and often lethal type of brain tumor. Scientists at Yale have begun using an unlikely ally to help treat the aggressive cancer in the form of elements of the Ebola virus. Yale scientist Anthony van den Pol, a professor of neurosurgery, says that the irony is one of the deadliest viruses in the world can be used in treating one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer.
The approach the scientists are using takes advantage of a weakness in most cancer tumors and of a defense in Ebola against the immune system. The scientists say that unlike a normal cell, a large percentage of cancer cells cannot generate an innate immune response against invaders like viruses. That fact has led cancer researchers to explore the use of viruses to combat cancer.
There is a risk of using viruses; the team says they can introduce potentially dangerous infections. Van den Pol mitigates that concern by creating and testing chimeric viruses. Those are a combination of genes from multiple viruses. These can target cancer cells without causing harm to patients.
One of the seven genes of the Ebola virus that helps it to avoid the immune system response contributes to the lethality of the virus. The scientists and other members of the team used a chimeric virus containing the one gene from the Ebola virus, a glycoprotein with mucin-line domain (MLD). MLD is important because it plays a role in hiding Ebola from the immune system.
When the chimeric virus was injected into the brain of mice with glioblastoma, the team found MLD helped to selectively kill the glioblastoma tumor. The team is specific that it works with the MLD glycoprotein and not the full Ebola virus. MLD appears to protect normal cells from infection, but not cancer cells. The team thinks the MLD treatment might be used along with surgery to eliminate these tumors and prevent the recurrence of cancer.