The rabies virus, a ruthless killer which kills thousands of people a year, may soon help brain cancer patients. The virus has a rare ability to easily get inside nerve cells and use them as a conduit to attach to brain tissue. Scientists are now trying to mimic this strategy to deliver tumor-killing drugs into brain tumors.
Effective results are found to work only in mice so far. If it passes experimental trials in people, the virus could one day help doctors treat tumors directly without harming healthy cells. Drugs to effectively cure brain cancer are largely limited due to the difficulty of passing through the blood-brain barrier which protects the brain from foreign agents, including cancer drugs.
However, the rabies virus has been found to bypass this major hurdle. Transmitted largely through the bites of infected animals, the virus has evolved over thousands of years to hijack nerve cells, climbing from infected muscle tissue into the brain. This mechanism could potentially save lives by allowing the virus to slip into the central nervous system easily, and deliver the drugs there.
Researchers have long been intrigued by this potential. “We are very excited about these new chimeric viruses that contain genes from multiple viruses. They work well in targeting cancer in animals, and we hope that they will also work effectively if tested in humans,” Tony van den Pol at the Yale Cancer Center says. However, the unaltered virus can seriously damage the brain, the Yale News reports.
Now, researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, South Korea, have discovered a safer way to use the virus. Seok Youn, a nanoparticle expert, and his team created gold particles to look like the same rod like shape and size as the virus. This improves the surface protein’s ability to bind to receptors on nerve cells to open the gateway to the nervous system, the Science Mag reports.
The gold particles don’t carry any drugs, but due to their shape, they readily absorb laser light, which heats them up and kills surrounding tissue. Scientists tested the cancer fighting abilities of these particles by injecting them into the tail veins of four mice with brain tumors, which results in significant reduction in the size of cancerous tumors. The findings were published this month in Advanced Materials.