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Small Pox Virus Hits Breast Cancer Head On

?Researchers have just discovered that aggressive forms of deadly triple negative breast cancer can be successfully treated with a new form of vaccine for the smallpox virus.

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a deadly form of breast cancer that is responsible for up to 20 percent of all breast cancer cases and is most prevalent among women below 35 years of age, especially if they are African American or Hispanic. Triple negative breast cancer is very difficult to treat successfully because the women affected by it lack three types of important receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 that would allow them to benefit from existing hormonal and immune therapies. The only other treatment in the arsenal of cancer fighting tools that women with TNBC seem to respond to is chemotherapy, although even chemo is not particularly effective as the tumors are very aggressive and tend to recur frequently.

The significant threat posed by forms of TNBC and the difficulty in treating them are recognized by oncologists as a real challenge and that is why a recent discovery by researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City is now making headlines around the world. The researchers have found that TNBC can be successfully treated by a very unlikely resource in the form of a vaccine for the smallpox virus that acts as both an oncolytic and anti-angiogenic agent that can enter and kill triple-negative breast cancer cells. Their surprising discovery is hoped to lead to a new and much more targeted treatment therapy against the often deadly form of breast cancer.

Sepideh Gholami, MD, one of the lead authors in the new Sloan Kettering study and a surgical resident at Stanford University Medical Center, Palo Alto, CA. Gholami said “One of the reasons I wanted to focus on TNBC is that there aren’t many long-term treatment options for these patients.” However the new findings on oncolytic viruses show they can exploit the unique vulnerabilities of the TNBC specific cancer cells. Dr. Gholami said “We used the vaccinia virus because it is a member of the small pox family, and, as we know, small pox vaccine has been given to millions of people to eradicate small pox. So we thought it would be safer and more promising in terms of a clinical trial and actual application.”

The exciting new findings presented at the 2012 Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons showed that the vaccinia virus not only infects and breaks down cancer cells but also inhibits tumor blood vessel growth as well, delivering a double knockout punch to the disease. Going forward, it is hoped that the promising early findings will allow researchers to take the next step and design a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and potential of the new virus in the successful treatment of all patients infected with TNBC.

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