Ottawa researchers look for a viral cancer cure

Find this article at

A viral cure for cancer is being unleashed on a human test patient from Dr. John Bell’s laboratory at the Ottawa Hospital.

The method is the first of its kind to be tested because it uses a combination of two different viruses.

The Maraba virus — synthesized from a Brazilian sand fly — will be administered gradually at different times with a common cold virus.

Right now a form of the Maraba virus is being grown by a team of suit-clad scientists in Bell’s lab, where it will eventually be administered to more than 70 patients over the next two years.

Fifteen years of collaboration between Bell, Dr. Brian Lichty and Dr. David Stojdl has led to this unprecedented, yet-to-be tested remedy for treatment-resistant tumours.

The theory is that the cold virus will prime the body’s immune system to recognize cancer as the enemy while the Maraba virus directly attacks cancer cells while also keeping them from coming back, according to Lichty.

The virus grown in the lab and unveiled at the hospital Friday is designed to attack a specific protein only found in tumour cells, called MAGE-A3.

Stojdl said the potential for this new method could have profound implications for cancer treatment in the future.

So far, researchers say the results have been promising in lab settings with mice.

But the next phase requires a human.

“When Dr. Jonker asked, I was intrigued at first, nervous” said former nurse Christina Moniker, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

Moniker’s decision to be the first to use the double-viral treatment came after numerous rounds of radiation and chemotherapy.

Her husband Ludewyk said the family talked about the option to try the experimental medicine.

“I think you should go for it,” he told her.

Moniker was administered one half of the treatment last month — the Maraba virus. She said the effects weren’t as bad as the severe nausea she experienced from chemotherapy.

Further phases of the treatment will introduce both viruses in various doses.

“But anything could happen. We don’t know the outcome,” she said.

He shrugged: “Her hair could turn purple.”

Ludewyk added the doctor in charge of the clinical trial, Dr. Derek Jonker, has provided round-the-clock support during the experimental treatment