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A Virus to Fight Your Melanoma? It’s Here

Cancer CellsA promising new virus therapy may help you live longer if you’re in the advanced stages of melanoma skin cancer. This treatment injects a modified version of the herpes virus directly into tumors to attack cancer cells.

How does virus therapy work?
Plastic surgeon Brian Gastman, MD, Director of Melanoma Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, describes the virus as a mindless being that attacks cells in your body and replicates in order to make more viruses.

“Since a cell cannot hold all of these viruses, it bursts and releases more virus particles that infect other cells,” Dr. Gastman says.

Scientists have discovered that certain viruses, known as oncolytic viruses, like to infect tumor cells more than regular cells.

“Researchers wanted to take advantage of that phenomenon,” Dr. Gastman says. “If they could inject a controlled virus into a cell and replace some of the viral guts, it could force the body to mount an anti-tumor response.”

Researchers created an oncolytic virus treatment by modifying the herpes virus genetically. The treatment is known as talimogene laherparepvec or T-VEC. Essentially, it causes the tumor cells to self-destruct, Dr. Gastman says.

A powerful, new treatment
Researchers also found that, as the virus attempts to kill tumor cells, it also sends out danger signals to the rest of the body, triggering an immune response.

“It was tested in patients who were beyond surgeries and didn’t have many options left,” says Dr. Gastman. “For some patients, the tumor shrank significantly. It’s coming after the tumor in a different way.”

The more ways you can attack cancer, the less chance it can evolve and resist treatment. “This gets us even closer to that threshold where we can cure everybody someday,” he says.

Best patients for T-VEC therapy