March 3, 2024

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Using ancient viruses in the human body to treat cancer

Using ancient viruses in the human body to treat cancer


Using ancient viruses in the human body to treat cance.

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded more than $1.7 million in resources to the team of Charles Spruck at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Institute for Medical Research to help advance a new ancient virus-based treatment for metastatic prostate cancer.

The new approach, called viral mimicry , tricks the body into thinking it’s infected by a virus, stimulating an immune response that helps the body fight cancer.


Dr. Charles Spruck said that in the virus simulation response, the body will think that it is infected, which will put the immune system into high gear.

As the immune system is activated, cancer cells respond more to treatment and tumor growth rate will increase slow down. All of this can happen without triggering treatment resistance, which could be a huge benefit in treating prostate cancer.


Worldwide, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in men.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , in 2020, there will be 1.4 million new cases of prostate cancer worldwide, and more than 375,000 men will die of prostate cancer every year.


Most prostate cancers are treatable, so many do not consider it a major public health problem.

However, prostate cancer can become fatal when it metastasizes or becomes resistant to hormone therapy. Treatments based on virus-mimicking responses work in a completely different way against cancer and are less susceptible to drug resistance.


The new technique exploits an evolutionary feature in the human genome known as endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) , small sequences in our genome left over from viruses that infected our ancient ancestors.

The existence of endogenous retroviruses has also been found in the genomes of early human relatives such as Neanderthals, but it seems that endogenous retroviruses have appeared in animals hundreds of millions of years ago.

Unlike the common viruses we are exposed to every day, endogenous retroviruses do not make anyone sick, but are part of our genome, helping to regulate our gene expression.


Dr. Charles Spruck said that endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are present in our genome, but they are inactive and do not express proteins.

And if these viruses are selectively activated in cancer cells, we can basically trick our body into thinking that it needs to mount an immune response against the tumor.


In December 2020, Charles Spruck’s team published a research paper entitled : FBXO44 promotes DNA replication-coupled repetitive element silencing in cancer cells in the journal Cell .

This study found that FBXO44 promotes DNA replication-coupled transcriptional silencing of repetitive elements (endogenous retroviruses are the main type of repetitive elements) in tumor cells, and FBXO44 inhibitors can act as independent anticancer therapies and immunotherapy response enhancers , which has important application prospects in cancer therapy.


Using ancient viruses in the human body to treat cancer




The team at Charles Spruck has since developed this potential therapeutic drug, which induces a virus-mimicking response in prostate cancer cells.

However, the drug is not yet potent or specific enough to enter clinical trials.

One of their next goals is to develop more potent compounds that can induce a virus-mimicking response, which could form the basis for future prostate cancer treatments.


Virus-mimicking responses could be effective in treating a range of difficult-to-treat cancers in addition to prostate cancer.

The research team is already exploring its use in the treatment of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, which recurs in up to 50 percent of patients due to treatment resistance.


Dr. Charles Spruck said that he originally discovered the virus-mimicking response in breast cancer, and this may also play a role in other cancers.

What’s exciting about this work is that it has the potential to move into the clinic soon, with the hope of having a clinically ready drug within three years.







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Using ancient viruses in the human body to treat cancer

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Important Note: The information provided is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice.