Yale Lab Engineers Virus That Can Kill Deadly Brain Tumors

Human glioblastoma cells with red fluorescent protein

A laboratory-engineered virus that can find its way through the vascular system and kill deadly brain tumors has been developed by Yale School of Medicine researchers, it was reported this week in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Each year 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with a brain tumor, and metastatic tumors and glioblastomas make up a large part of these tumors. There currently is no cure for these types of tumors, and they generally result in death within months.

Green color is widespread viral infection of the tumor mass

Anthony van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery at Yale, said current treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, which can prolong life for a few months, but generally fail because they don’t eliminate all of the cancer cells.

To test their tumor-targeting virus, van den Pol and his team transplanted tumor tissue from human or mouse brains into the brains of mice. They then inoculated the mice with a lab-created vesicular stomatitis virus, a replicating virus distantly related to the rabies virus.

Mouse brain with two human brain tumor grafts targeted by virus

“Three days after inoculation, the tumors were completely or almost completely infected with the virus and the tumor cells were dying or dead,” van den Pol said. “We were able to target different types of cancer cells. Within the same time frame, normal mouse brain cells or normal human brain cells transplanted into mice were spared. This underlines the virus’ potential therapeutic value against multiple types of brain cancers.”

Selective infection of the red tumor by green virus

The team also tested targeting brain tumors with the virus through the olfactory nerve and found it led to complete infection of the tumor. After infection, the tumor cells disappeared from the olfactory bulb, van den Pol said.

Co-authors include lead author Koray Özduman, Guido Wollmann, and Joseph Piepmeier.

Journal of Neuroscience: February 20, 2008