Researchers have successfully used the herpes simplex virus to treat triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) - at least in the lab and in mice.
"Herpes viral therapy may one day be used to treat aggressive breast cancer."
There is currently no effective treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive and deadly form of the disease that attacks mostly African American and Hispanic women.
Lead researcher, Sepideh Gholami, M.D., a research fellow in the laboratory of Yuman Fong, M.D., F.A.C.S. at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, explains that while these tumors respond to various chemotherapy agents, it's common for these cancers to return and spread.
For this study, Dr. Gholami and colleagues infected TNBC cells with a herpes simplex virus known as NV1066. Within one week, the virus had killed 90 percent of the cells.
When TNBC cells were injected into mice that were then treated with the virus, the tumors had largely disappeared within 20 days.
Dr. Gholami was surprised by what she called the "intense response," saying that stopping tumor growth sometimes occurs in such experiments, but having them shrink or disappear is quite rare.
The herpes virus goes after and kills a specific protein in TNBC cells - what's called p-MPK - that promotes cancer cell growth and may be the reason these cells don't respond to existing therapies.
A similar virus has shown promise in treating head and neck cancers.
Further study will be conducted to increase understanding and perfect a virus that could then be tested in human clinical trials.
This work was presented at 2011 Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.
Research is considered preliminary before it's published in a peer-reviewed journal.