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  • Rohit Duggaraju

Oncolytic Viruses: A Cure for Cancer?

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Science's latest on the fight on cancer shines a light on a very unque method of curing this disease. How does cancer work, and what makes this cure so promising?

Finding a cure for cancer has plagued scientists for years now, with thousands of research facilities focusing on finding a way to beat this terrible disease with 100% effectiveness. Each facility takes its own direction in finding a cure, and the use of oncolytic viruses, which has taken decades to perfect, is finally showing some promise.

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Before we look at this new possible cure, we have to take a look at what cancer is, how it works, and why this new method may be effective.

What is cancer and how does it work?

Cancer is simply a scientific term for uncontrollable cell growth. Usually, every one of our cells divides based on a clock and regulating genes that tell it when to go through with the cell division process. When the clock is thrown off, or the genes are mutated, the cell does not know when to stop and divides uncontrollably. The cells that it creates also divide uncontrollably, causing an exponential growth of cells inside someone's body. These growths are called tumors, which can be benign or malignant.

Cancer kills when the tumor is malignant, which means that it is bad for the body. Why does a growth of cells kill someone? These growths grow into any space they wish to; they do not have boundaries. They usually grow into blood vessels and block them, while some cancer cells also get into the bloodstream and go somewhere else in the body, where they form other tumors.They can encroach on incredibly important vessels such as the aorta or the vessels that fuel certain vital organs. Sometimes they metastasize, or attack themselves, onto an organ and grow into the organ.

Common treatments for cancer depend on how advanced the cancer is. If the cancer was caught in its early stages, usually surgeons can resect, or remove it, from the body. If it is advanced, radiation therapy and other treatments are used.

Why oncolytic viruses are promising...

Oncolytic viruses act like any other virus. For example, a common cold virus will enter your body and inject its DNA into your cells, killing your cell and using the inside to breed thousands more copies of the virus. Oncolytic viruses target only cancerous (tumor) cells and destroy them, not harming your healthy normal cells. They also trigger an immune response, since they are foreign to your body, and that helps to fight the cancer as well. This treatment, has been looked into since almost the 1800s; and for the first time since then, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has allowed one specific oncolytic virus to be in clinical trials to fight against a certain type of melanoma, or tumor. This treatment is catching more and more attention, and it may be the future of cancer treatment.

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