Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cancer Killing Virus Are Real - But Unlikely to Destroy the Human Race

In the recent movie version of I Am Legend the plague that kills off most of the human race starts off as a genetically modified measles virus that was designed as a cure for cancer. Mutation causes the virus to become lethal, rapidly killing off 90% of the human population. According to Science Daily, the engineered virus the movie depicts (in its cancer-curing, not human-killing, form) came as a big surprise to one virologist:
Early on in the movie, survivor Robert Neville (Will Smith) replays a three-year-old TV interview which foreshadows the impending disaster.

“So, Dr. Krippin, give it to me in a nutshell,” says the TV interviewer.

“Well, the premise is quite simple,” responds the scientist. “Um, take something designed by nature and reprogram it to make it work for the body rather than against it.”

In his airplane seat, Dr. [Patrick] Lee’s jaw is dropping. Not a movie-goer, he didn’t catch the movie in theatres when it came out last Christmas, although a colleague at McGill thought he should.

“That’s my research. I can’t believe it, that’s my research,” he says. “I was the first one to use a virus to target cancer cells.”

Lee's current research at Dalhousie University uses human reovirus, rather than measles, to target cells with an activated form of the proto-oncogene Ras or the Ras signaling pathway. For more information about how the reovirus works, check out this video from Oncolytics Biotech and US Patent 6110461. Clinical trials are currently underway.

Despite the similarity to his research, Lee is certain that his virus won't run amok and destroy the human race.

“I thought the movie was very entertaining but the scenario it presents is highly unlikely, almost impossible,” he says.

With a pause, he adds: “Scientists don’t like to deal in absolutes, but in this case, I would say absolutely impossible."
Hopefully he's right about that . . .

Image: Electron micrograph of Rotavirus, a type of Reovirus.
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