Modified poliovirus can help the body fight cancer cells

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in the US, may have discovered a new way of killing cancer cells.

The team was jointly led by Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, and Prof. Smita Nair, who is an immunologist in the Department of Surgery.

The new research – which is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine – shows how a modified poliovirus enables the body to use its own resources to fight off cancer. The modified virus has been named PVS-RIPO.

PVS-RIPO has been in clinical trials since 2011 and preliminary results have offered hope to patients with one of the most aggressive forms of brain tumour: recurrent glioblastoma.

The poliovirus attacks and inhibits the regrowth of tumours

T cells attack a cancer cell.

  • The researchers examined the behaviour of the poliovirus in melanoma and triple-negative breast cancer.
  • The poliovirus attaches itself to cancerous cells. These cells have an excess of the CD155 protein, which acts as a receptor for the poliovirus.
  • The poliovirus then attacks the malignant cells, triggering the release of antigens from the tumour. Antigens are toxic substances that the body does not recognize, which triggers an immune response.
  • When the tumour cells release antigens, this alerts the body’s immune system to start attacking. At the same time, the poliovirus infects the dendritic cells and macrophages whose function it is to rid the body of toxins.
  • Once PVS-RIPO infects the dendritic cells, these cells alert the T cells to start the immune attack.
  • Once started, this process seems to be continuously successful. The cancer cells continue to be vulnerable to the immune system’s attack over a longer period of time, which appears to stop the tumour from regrowing.


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