Virotherapy is an emerging and innovative branch of medicine that uses viruses to kill cancer cells. While scientists have known for centuries that some viruses can kill cancer cells, the field has not received focused attention and funding until recent years. Due to advancements in genetic engineering, the field has come leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings several centuries ago.
Beginning in the 1800s, scientists began to experiment with viruses and how they attacked healthy and cancerous cells. In the 1900s, a scientist by the name of William Coley famously injected cancerous tumors with bacterial infections with varied success. His treatment became known as “Coley’s toxins” and was used as a type of vaccine. With the subsequent rise of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other more successful treatments, these types of experiments and procedures fell to the wayside.
In the 1940s and 50s, doctors began a form of virotherapy trials on mice by infecting them with various diseases such as the mumps and West Nile virus and were met with wildly varying successes and failures. Spurred on by past research, the 1980s welcome the modern era of virotherapy and gave rise to today’s oncolytic virotherapy.
Oncolytic virotherapy is so successful because it exploits the weaknesses of cancerous cells. When cells become infected with cancer, they form dangerous features that viruses can manipulate. Cancerous cells do not have the same mechanisms to fight infections as healthy cells By introducing them to a specific virus that is designed to attack that type of cell, virotherapy can be used to attack cancer.
While oncolytic virotherapy has made tremendous leaps and bounds forward in the past decades, there is still a long way to go. Scientists are still learning and discovering the best methods for injection, which viruses are more effective for different types of cancer, and how to control certain viruses to prevent them from hurting their patients after cancer has been eliminated. Virotherapy is not considered a cure for cancer but a treatment used to supplement others such as chemotherapy.
As more and more developments occur in the field, virotherapy will continue to expand and push the boundaries of cancer treatment. This exciting and promising new field is quickly gaining notoriety and interest around the globe as more and more research is undertaken and more prototypes enter the market. Virotherapy has quickly established itself as an innovative medical field that could change the way doctors treat cancer.