09/01/2011 02:29 pm ET | Updated Nov 01, 2011

'Anti-Cancer' Virus Displays Promising Results, Selectively Targets Cancer Cells

Fighting cancer with a virus may sound counterintuitive, but a new therapy has shown tremendous promise in combating the deadly ailment.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, has displayed tremendous promise for the idea, showing that a modified virus was able to target cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. In a small trial of 23 subjects, seven of the eight patients given the strongest dose of the virus didn't see damage to their otherwise healthy tissues, while the virus did replicate in cancerous cells. Six other patients given smaller doses of the virus also experienced a stop in tumor growth.

In the past, modified viruses had to be injected directly into tumors in order to avoid the immune system, but in this case the injections went directly into the bloodstream, according to the BBC. This allows the virus to more completely attack the cancer, not just affecting larger tumors.

The modified vaccinia virus, known as JX-594, did not cure the cancer, however. Because researchers were testing the safety of the virus, each patient was only given one dose.

According to the Cancer Network, there were some adverse effects, but they were mainly limited to flu-like symptoms.

The vaccinia virus is famously known for being used in the development of a smallpox vaccine. Eventually, this virus could lead to a fundamentally different approach to cancer treatment.

Recently, scientists have been changing the way they look at cancer treatment, often using the bloodstream as a means of delivering therapies. Earlier this month, researchers at UPenn found tremendous promise in a leukemia treatment that used a patient's own modified T cells to fight the disease.

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