Specially Designed Virus Targets and Kills Colorectal Cancer Cells in Mice

Grantee: Susanne Warner, MD, PhD
Institution: Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope in Duarte, CA
Area of Focus: Microbial Pathogenesis and Cancer
Grant Term: 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2021

The Challenge:
Traditional chemotherapy drugs kill all fast-growing cells, including cancer cells and healthy cells. The loss of those healthy cells may cause side effects. Susanne Warner, MD, PhD, and her research team have vast experience developing viral treatments that leave healthy cells alone. Now they’re designing new viral treatments that kill cancer cells, called oncolytic viral treatments. They’re learning these viruses work well in mice when combined with certain types of immunotherapy in a treatment called viroimmunotherapy.

The Research: Warner and her team developed a “super” virus that attacks tumors in 3 ways:

  1. By infecting and killing tumor cells
  2. By shutting down the blood supply to the tumor, which leads to the death of cancer cells
  3. By training a patient’s immune system to attack the tumor

In the lab, Warner’s team inserted a gene into the virus that ultimately allows iodine to enter the cancer cell. The combination kills cancer cells more effectively. It also makes the cancer cells visible on imaging scans, which allows the researchers to watch the tumor shrink as the virus multiplies and cancer cells die.

When the researchers tried to re-grow a colorectal cancer tumor in a mouse that had been treated with the virus-iodine combination, they couldn’t.

Why Does It Matter? This research in mice has been promising so far. Warner’s group is hopeful that after more work, they’ll eventually be able to start testing their viruses in humans.

To learn more about Susanne Warner's work, listen to this podcast: Ripping a Hole in Cancer Cell's Invisibility Cloak