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.