New discovery: Measles virus can infect and kill breast cancer cells
Halifax researchers discover that the measles virus can infect and kill breast cancer cells.
“You found it, didn’t you?”
Those words were spoken by a postdoctoral student one Sunday morning in 2011. On
that day, Christopher Richardson was in his laboratory at Dalhousie University. “I looked through my microscope and saw the discovery,”
Dr. Richardson recalls. “After six years, it was there. It was the most satisfying moment of my life.”
On that unforgettable day, Dr. Richardson and his team of researchers discovered that a tumour cell marker called PVRL4 is a receptor for the measles virus. The virus attaches to this receptor, which is a specific protein located on cell surfaces. It can potentially be used to specifically target and infect cancer cells and turn people’s immune system against the tumours.
“Eighty percent of breast cancer cells, including the most aggressive cancers, have PVRL4 receptors all over their surface, making them highly susceptible to the measles virus,” Dr. Richardson explains.
He says this discovery offers new hope for Canadians diagnosed with breast cancer, especially to those with an aggressive form of the disease.
Dr. Richardson says clinical trials might begin as early as this year. “We still need to add something to the virus to make it even more powerful,” he explains. “If successful, this will be a new therapeutic treatment for those diagnosed with breast cancer. It will certainly be more effective than chemotherapy alone and might be able to stand on its own.”
Dr. Richardson is grateful to his entire team, as well as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and caring supporters. “The grant I received from the Foundation literally kept my research going. It actually helped me discover this receptor. It made my research and the discovery possible.