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Scientists Fight Cancer with Viruses

The names suggest a higher death count than any war: Yellow fever. Influenza. Smallpox. HIV. Viruses have killed billions of human beings, and may kill billions more—but a recent study indicates that viruses can also sometimes be used to kill cancer. It’s not a cure, but it introduces some promising new treatment options. And while the idea of oncolytic viruses isn’t entirely new, scientists are only now beginning to use them effectively.

In one case, a woman went into remission after being injected with a superconcentrated dose of a modified measles virus. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen explains the details:

This isn’t the first time a virus has been used to fight cancer. Last year, a team from Philadelphia successfully treated leukemia by using a heavily modified version of HIV (inspiring a somewhat inaccurate media/Internet meme about how doctors cured a case of leukemia by “inject[ing] HIV into a dying girl”). In addition to measles and HIV, doctors have had some moderate success with adenovirus, reovirus, type 1 herpes, Newcastle disease, and vaccinia.

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Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.
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