Viral Attack on Cancer

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Guest Blogger: John Evenocheck, Undergraduate in Microbiology

Cancer is one of the worst things to watch a loved one go through. A feeling of helplessness becomes overwhelming as you watch them lose their appetite and not be able to sleep or do basic human functions. I myself have had to watch my grandparents and even my father battle cancer. The pain it brought my family was awful, but I could never imagine what it must be like for a parent to watch their own child go through such a fatal disease. Parents don’t even want their kids to get sick much less go through having cancer, but what if getting sick could cure a child of cancer?

Cancer develops when cells divide rapidly. A tumor cell has no stop region or checkpoint to insure it has no mutations because the tumor cell itself is a mutated cell. This is why cancer is so hard to stop. Cancer cells are all so different, and the immune system does not recognize tumor cells as foreign, so the body does not normally attack tumor cells. This is what makes cancer so dangerous, and why so many people die from it.

Viruses can also be dangerous and cause many diseases, from colds to AIDS, but what if one virus could actually stop cancer? Researchers have found that the virus that causes cold sores may actually help the fight against cancer. When this virus is placed inside tumor cells and allowed to duplicate within the cells and infect more and more cells, the immune system recognizes the virus as well as the tumor cells. As the immune system responds to the virus, it also fights the cancer.

This kind of viral treatment has been studied in adults, but new research is targeting children. The hope is to either cure the twelve thousand children that get diagnosed with cancer a year or at least suppress the side effects of their treatments. For example, viral therapy could provide an alternative to chemotherapy. When a person goes through chemotherapy, they experience terrible side effects, including hair loss, loss of appetite, nausea and much much more. Seeing a child go through this, a kid who has barely lived a life and is already having to deal with more than the average person would ever have to, would be unbearable.

Viral therapy could allow children to play outside and live a life while battling cancer. Giving a child a life is so important, and this is one of the reasons I want to go into oncology. Giving a child a chance to have experiences a terminally ill cancer patient normally would not have would be amazing.

This research could be huge and will save many lives if in fact it does work. Trials have been done in animals and some humans with very promising results. The results of these experiments will hopefully lead to more research in this area, and if I am lucky, maybe someday I too can do research on cancer and hopefully help children .

This entry is part of the fall MICR 354 scientific writing students' blog series.

Image of leukemia cells infected with Epstein Barr virus. Source: CDC.