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Fighting cancer with rabbit virus

Bone marrow transplants (or, more accurately, haemopoietic stem cell transplants) replace damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. Bone marrow is key to the body’s immune response, producing disease-busting white blood cells.

Bone marrow transplants also help to fight specific cancers: leukemia (cancer of the white blood cells) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). With leukemia, the white blood cells do not develop any infection-fighting properties; with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the cancer spreads through the lymphatic system.

The risk with bone marrow transplants is that the newly transplanted white blood cells will attack the recipient’s body.

Researchers have discovered that a virus that infects rabbits, called myxoma virus, could help the body to fight against certain cancers and help the body to resist donor bone marrow rejection. This is based, at this stage, on tests using human cells in a laboratory. The virus infects rabbits in Europe and Australia; it is non-pathogenic to humans.

With the study, the myxoma virus is linked to T-cells (a type of white blood cell.) The virus- white blood cells are then passed on as part of a bone marrow transplant from a donor. The virus appears to block graft-versus-host disease. Furthermore, the white blood cells also deliver the myxoma virus to cancer cells, and these are killed off by the virus.

Further research will be required before human trials can begin. The next stage will involve the use of mice.

The research was undertaken at the University of Florida. The findings have been published in the journal Blood. The paper is titled “Myxoma virus suppresses proliferation of activated T lymphocytes yet permits oncolytic virus transfer to cancer cells.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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