Scientists ID Virus That Infects Cancer Cells

Oct. 15 -- TUESDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- New details about the structure of a virus that can infect lung cancer cells have been uncovered by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California.

The findings may help scientists find ways to alter the virus so that it attacks other tumor subtypes.

The Scripps team said the 3-D structure of the Seneca Valley Virus-001 reveals that it's unlike any other known member of the Picornaviridae viral family and confirms its recent designation as a separate genus, Senecavirus.

The outer protein shell of Senecavirus looks like a craggy golf ball (with uneven divets and raised spikes), and the RNA strand beneath the shell is arranged in a round mesh, the Scripps study found.

"It is not at all like other known picornaviruses that we are familiar with, including poliovirus and rhinovirus, which cause the common cold," study senior author Vijay S. Reddy, said in a Scripps news release. "This crystal structure will now help us understand how Senacavirus works, and how we can take advantage of it."

Reddy and colleagues also identified several areas on the virus's protein shell that may hook onto receptors on cancer cells in the process of infecting them. They're now taking a closer look at this process.

"It will be critically important to find out what region of its structure the virus is using to bind to tumor cells, and what those cancer cell receptors are. Then we can, hopefully, improve Senecavirus enough to become a potent agent that can be used with many different cancers," Reddy said.

The study was published in the Oct. 8 issue of Structure.

The Senecavirus was identified a few years ago and is believed to have originated from cows or pigs. The virus is harmless to normal human cells but can infect certain solid tumors, such as small-cell lung cancer.

Laboratory and animal studies indicated that Senecavirus has strong anti-cancer properties with little toxicity. A U.S. biotech company is currently testing the virus in early phase clinical trials with lung cancer patients.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer.

SOURCE: Scripps Research Institute, news release, Oct. 8, 2008