Making cancer history

By Guest Author 08/09/2014

EurekaSymposium-WEBSciBlogs is running guest posts from some of the Eureka! Sir Paul Callaghan Awards 2014 finalists. First up, University of Waikato engineering student Shalini Guleria shares her vision for the future of cancer therapy.

The Statistics

Each year approximately 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide, this disease has one of the highest mortality rates despite the advances made in current treatments. Currently, cancer is one of the major health issues that our country faces. This disease not only harms the patients but it also has a negative effect on their loved ones. Research has shown that approximately 40% of the people who are diagnosed with cancer die and rest 60% are left to bare the harsh treatment side effects. Scientists and medical professionals have tried various treatments in order to cure this disease; chemotherapy being the most common treatment of them all. This treatment is effective but it has major side effects that the patient has to face even after the disease is gone. Nowadays the word “Cancer” is so common that people have forgotten its severity and the suffering it causes to the patients.

A misconception is held amongst the people that cancer only happens to people who are not healthy, who drink, smoke etc. but this is not true! Cancer can strike anyone despite their gender, age or even lifestyle. This disease mostly occurs due to genetic mutations, which lead to an uncontrollable division of cells hence forming tumors.

The Issues

The current treatments fail to specifically target cancer cells therefore affecting healthy cells in the body and leading to a variety of side effects. My idea involves a combination of reovirus and natural killer cells. Scientists have looked at the reovirus (orphan virus) as a potential cancer treatment as it targets cancer cells only and some scientists have also tried to enhance the activity of the Natural Killer cells in cancer patients in order to destroy the cancerous growths. Both these ideas have not delivered very successful results due some severe side effects. The reovirus can only reach the cancer cells if the patient’s immunity is lowered, which causes rise in toxicity levels and can be fatal. When enhancing the activity of the Natural Killer cells a rapid immune response is initiated, which can lead to the death of the patient.

The New Approach

My idea of the Natural Killer Virus looks at solving these problems. Reovirus can act as a viral vector therefore it can be modified to be less immunogenic, allowing the virus to hide from the patient’s immune system and successfully travel to the cancer cells. This removes the need for suppressing the patient’s immunity. Also by inserting a specific combination of genes from Natural Killer cells into the virus, will then allow it to exhibit similar properties to the natural killer cells and also initial local immune responses around the cancerous cells. This combination will therefore increase the patient’s immunity with no major side.

This idea is quite novel and can be further modified to be specific to various forms of cancers. I believe that with this idea cancer can be a history in medical science and the cure of cancer can be a possibility.

Shalini Guleria is undertaking a (BE Hons) at the University of Waikato and is in the second year of her degree, her scientific interests include: genetics, biotechnology, biological engineering, medicine and natural medicine.