Of Mice and Cancer: How a relative of smallpox might help cure breast cancer

Vaccinia Virus, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vaccinia Virus, Source: Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published at Mind the Science Gap on Oct. 18, 2012.

Just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the American College of Surgeons issued a press release with a potentially  life-saving finding. Detailed in the press release are the results of a study recently conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) where scientists recently conducted a study in mice and found that a new vaccinia virus (named GLV-1h164) can kill Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) cells.

Vaccinia is a poxvirus, and it is in the same family as smallpox and monkeypox. In fact, vaccinia is the virus used in the smallpox vaccine. The virus in this study works by preventing the tumor from recruiting blood vessels (angiogenesis), a crucial step in cancer spreading. If a tumor can’t recruit blood vessels, then it can’t receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood. This virus effectively starves the tumor.

The Triple Negative of TNBC refers to breast cancers that do not express genes (a process where information from genes is turned into an actual product like a protein) for:

  1. Estrogen receptors – The status of these receptors determines a tumor’s susceptibility to hormonal chemotherapy drugs like tamoxifen. If receptors are present, hormonal treatments can be used in treatment.
  2. Progesterone Receptors – Like estrogen receptors, presence of these receptors indicates a tumor’s susceptibility to hormonal treatments
  3. Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 or HER2 – A common target for cancer treatments, since HER2 overexpression leads to aggressive cancers Continue reading