A major new study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics has found that the plant virus, Cowpea Mosaic Virus, kills cancer cells in humans.
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Not all viruses are dangerous, and one in particular may be capable of stopping cancer. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego are investigating how a plant virus known as cowpea mosaic virus stops and prevents cancer from returning. Their most recent findings demonstrate that when the virus infects cancerous cells, it sends a signal to the immune system, causing the anti-cancer response to be extended toward the tumor.
The cowpea mosaic virus is a plant virus that primarily affects legumes. However, study authors have been studying animal models to establish its potential as a cancer immunotherapy treatment for the past seven years.
In a university release, Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the director of the Center for NanoImmunoEngineering, said, “This study helps validate the cowpea mosaic plant virus nanoparticle as our lead cancer immunotherapy candidate.” “Now we have mechanistic data to explain why it is the most potent candidate, which further de-risks it for clinical translation.”
The perfect bait for fighting cancer?
The cowpea mosaic virus was investigated in nanoparticle form by the scientists. The nanoparticles were put directly into the tumor to act as immune system bait. Immune cells recognised viral nanoparticles and alerts the rest of the immune system to a foreign invasion in the body once the lure is set. When the immune system realize cowpea mosaic virus is inside a tumor, they begin to kill malignant cells using the immune cells they build up to combat the virus.
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Not only does the virus aid in the removal of the existing tumor, but it also produces a systemic immune response that protects against future tumors, according to Dr. Steinmetz. While this immunological impact has not yet been explored in people, it has been shown in canine and mouse models of several cancers. The cowpea mosaic virus also produces an anti-cancer response not seen in other plant viruses or virus-like particles, according to experts.
“We’ve shown that it works, and now we need to show what makes it so special that it can induce this kind of response,” says lead author Veronique Beiss, who worked in Dr. Steinmetz’s lab as a postdoctoral researcher. “That’s the knowledge gap we’re looking to fill.”
The virus triggers more disease-killing inflammation
The researchers evaluated the anti-tumor efficiency of the cowpea mosaic viruses to two plant viruses from the same family with similar forms and sizes. The RNA sequence and protein makeup of the cowpea severe mosaic virus were similar. The tobacco ringspot virus, the other plant virus, only possessed a comparable structure.
They next used three doses of each virus-based nanoparticle immunotherapy given a week apart to infect a melanoma tumor in mice. Mice given the cowpea mosaic virus nanoparticles had a higher chance of survival and less tumors than mice that were not. Four days following the second dose, the tumor stopped growing.
The researchers then extracted immune cells from the spleen and lymph nodes of mice. They discovered that all plant viruses have a protein coating that activates toll-like receptors on immune cells’ surfaces. The cowpea mosaic virus, on the other hand, goes one step further by using its RNA to activate an additional toll-like receptor. More pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines arise when more toll-like receptors are activated, increasing the immune response to cancer.
The cowpea mosaic virus also extends the cytokine response, which boosts the immunological response.
“We don’t see this with the other two plant viruses. “The cytokine levels peak quickly, then go down and are gone,” explains Beiss. “This prolonged immune response is another key difference that sets cowpea mosaic virus apart.”
The research was published in Molecular Pharmaceutics.