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Viruses in the service of humankind

11 March 2010

Illustration of gene therapy where a virus vector invades a cell and injects genes into the cell nucleus. (U.S. National Library of Medicine, Genetics Home Reference, February 21, 2010)

Cancer is one of our major public health diseases. The creation of viruses that benefit humankind is an example of Uppsala University research designed to find new forms of treatment for cancer.

Viruses are interesting in cancer research since, over the course of millions of years, they have developed an arsenal of mechanisms to effectively penetrate cells.

- We are recreating viruses by eliminating their negative properties and trying to retain the positive ones. We are creating viruses in the service of human beings that we can steer, like target-seeking missiles, to the cells we want them to enter, says Göran Akusjärvi, professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology.

The goal for the research team is to develop virus vectors to treat specific cancer tumors. This is also the goal of another research team, directed by Magnus Essand, professor at the Department of Oncology, Radiology, and Clinical Immunology.

The researchers are loading the virus vectors with a certain type of genes. The genes are taken up by the cell, which begins to produce tiny molecules, so-called small RNA, that attack the sick genes in the cell.

- Our objective is to test small RNA molecules as potential drugs for cancer, says Göran Akusjärvi.

The research teams are focusing on leukemia and prostate cancer. The aim is for processed virus vectors to lead to new methods of treatment.

- It’s just a matter of time until we succeed. If everything goes according to plan, this could be a realistic form of treatment in five to ten years, says Göran Akusjärvi.

Read more:

Research on cancer and other tumor diseases