McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Mac researcher receives funding to study potential cancer-killing virus

Published: May 5, 2006
Family Medicine Photo
Brian Lichty, an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Brian Lichty, an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, has been awarded $319,400 over three years to study a virus which has potential as both a cancer-cell killer and a way to stimulate the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

The grant for Lichty is part of $18.7 million that the Canadian Cancer Society is awarding for research projects in Ontario this year.

Thirty-eight new grants have been awarded to researchers in Hamilton, Kingston, London, Ottawa and Toronto for promising research in several areas including skin cancer prevention and using viruses to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.

Lichty's team is studying the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which has a role in two promising avenues of cancer research – "oncolytic viruses" and immunotherapy.

Oncolytic viruses can kill cancer cells, but are unable to infect normal cells. Most of these viruses have been found to be very safe, but not strong enough to kill large numbers of cancer cells in patients.

Immunotherapy involves stimulating the patient's own immune system to attack cancer cells. One approach to achieve this is to use a vaccine to direct the immune system to fight specific proteins in cancer cells.

In previous research, Lichty was part of a team who discovered that VSV has significant oncolytic properties. By altering the genes of this virus, he now hopes to improve its effectiveness as both an oncolytic virus and part of a tumour vaccine.

More than 50 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer today survive their disease due in large part to progress made through cancer research. Incidence rates for most cancers are stabilizing or declining. With the exception of lung cancer in women, death rates for most major cancers have declined during the past decade in Canada.

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