Using viruses to beat lung cancer

Current treatments are not very good at stopping the spread of the most common type of lung cancer: non-small cell. Advances in virotherapy provide hope.

BC Lung Association research grant recipient, Dr. Honglin Luo, is studying how to use viruses to treat lung cancer. Viruses can be modified depending on the type of tumor, have fewer side effects for the patient than traditional therapies and could substantially improve health outcomes for lung cancer patients.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer for both men and women in Canada. It’s also the deadliest.

Roughly 85% of all lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Most patients with NSCLC are diagnosed late, when the cancer is already advanced, with little hope of surgical removal. The overall 5-year survival rate is only about 17%. And the main reason for the low survival rate is that advanced NSCLC responds poorly to current chemotherapies.

Dr. Luo has been studying coxsackievirus (CVB3) and diseases caused by this group of viruses for more than 15 years. Her current research is a collaboration with Dr. William Jia, a UBC professor with more than 20 years experience in virus-based cancer therapy.

“Our study is currently at a relatively early stage. Together with Dr. William Lockwood at the BC Cancer Research Centre, we’ve discovered an extremely powerful antitumor virus. It potently destroys various types of lung cancer cells, with limited eff ects on healthy lung cells,” said Dr. Luo.

“We’re currently testing the effectiveness of CVB3 treatment for lung cancer in animal models. If therapeutic effects are achieved, we expect that the results of this project could be translated into clinical application in the near future. We also hope to expand the findings of this project to the treatment of other types of cancer.”

In a real-world situation, the treatment will be delivered to patients suffering from lung cancer through different routes, such as inhalation and IV injection. Lung cancer would also be treated by direct injection during surgery, or in combination with other conventional chemotherapies. 

Dr. Honglin Luo is a Professor at the UBC Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and a researcher with the Heart Lung Innovation Centre at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. She completed her MSc and MD training in China and then pursued her postdoctoral training at the University of  Washington.

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Page Last Updated: 05/11/2018