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How the cause of cold sores could beat cancer

We are used to hearing about how some viruses, like HPV, can cause cancer, but now scientists like Professor Gill Elliott and her team at the University of Surrey, are looking to engineer special viruses so they can destroy cancer cells whilst leaving normal cells alone.

Professor Elliott thinks the cold sore-causing herpes simplex virus (HSV) -normally associated with annoying blisters - has many of the right properties for the job. In her new grant from Worldwide Cancer Research, she is manipulating the virus so it can target and kill ovarian cancer cells.

Professor Elliott commented; “Other groups have carried out clinical trials of these cancer-killing viruses, showing them to be promising treatments. However, one major hurdle is their failure to spread through the whole of a solid tumour- sometimes there is just too much tumour.

“This is where we come in. Using our knowledge of HSV biology, we want to discover ways of altering the virus so it will spread much faster between cancer cells.”

Over 4,000 women die from ovarian cancer in the UK each year* with many patients not identified until the disease is very advanced. Although improving, survival over 10 years remains low compared to many other cancers and new effective treatments are needed.

“Our ultimate goal is to build a virus with all the necessary properties needed for destroying cancer. That is, it will only infect cancer cells not healthy cells, it is easy to track and importantly it will spread rapidly through the cells,” concluded Professor Elliott.

This March it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. See our other research projects tackling ovarian cancer here.

* Latest statistics from Cancer Research UK