Not all viruses cause disease. In fact, many of them are used to cure disease through an experimental technique known as gene therapy. With gene therapy, scientists insert genes into human cells and tissues to correct genetic defects, thereby curing or preventing genetic diseases. With that said, here are ten ways viruses can be used to cure diseases.
10. Vision Loss
A modified form of the adeno-associated virus (AAV) can be used to restore vision in patients with a rare form of inherited vision loss that can cause blindness. Last December, the FDA approved the use of AAV in the form of a drug. The drug, called Luxturna, is the country’s first directly administered gene therapy that targets inherited genetic diseases. The virus would be delivered directly into the retina with a one-time injection.
Unfortunately, Luxturna is very expensive to make. According to Harvard Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences, Sparks Therapeutics, the manufacturers of Luxturna, said the drug costs about $825,000 to prepare. “We have been working with health insurers to create innovative pathways for access to Luxturna that may serve as models for other one-time administered gene therapies in the future,” Jeffrey Marrazzo, CEO of Spark Therapeutics, said in an article Harvard University’s website.
9. Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome
Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS) is a rare disease affecting white blood cells. Sufferers have a weak immune system and a reduced ability to form blood clots due to a missing protein that helps white blood cells interact with foreign invaders and helps clot-forming cells develop. As a result, they are vulnerable to infections and prolonged bleeding after injury. Researchers have found a way to treat WAS, but the cure might make you think twice before undergoing treatment.
Scientists have designed a modified form of HIV containing the genes needed to create the protein Wiskott-Aldrich patients are missing. The modified form of HIV was used in a clinical trial involving seven children who had WAS. According to researchers, symptoms in six of the seven children (one died due to a separate preexisting condition) were reversed. “What we hope, and the evidence is certainly suggestive of this, is that the therapeutic effect will last for a very substantial amount of time, such that the patients should not need another treatment and so therefore we hope that it will be lifelong,” Prof. Adrian Thrasher, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the clinical trial took place, told the BBC News website.
8. Type 1 Diabetes
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a charity based in the United Kingdom, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine were able to reverse type 1 diabetes by infusing AAV through the pancreatic ducts of mice. Since not all treatments that are effective on mice work for humans, the next step is to conduct tests on other animal species before conducting human trials. According to JDRF, Dr. George Gittes, co-author of the study, says the team has already begun testing this therapy on monkeys. “Who knows if it will work, but there’s only way to find out, and that’s to try,” Gittes said.
7. Hearing Loss
A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and the Boston Children’s Hospital used a synthetic version of AAV they engineered to cure deafness in mice. The treatment restored their hearing levels to near normal. The mice suffered from Usher syndrome, a condition that results in the abnormal development of sound receptor cells in the inner ear.
This particular gene therapy treatment was different from others because the scientists didn’t modify the virus. “Instead, we gave it a vehicle to travel in, making it better capable of navigating the terrain inside the inner ear and accessing previously resistant cells,” co-author Casey Maguire, HMS assistant professor of neurology, said in a statement on IFLScience.com.
So far the treatment has only worked on mice, but the researchers say human trials are in the not-too-distant future.
6. Brain Cancer
The Zika virus, which is spread through mosquito bites, can be used to treat the most common and aggressive kind of malignant brain tumor in adults. According to ScienceDaily, researchers at the University of Campinas’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences (FCF-UNICAMP) in São Paulo State, Brazil, recently made this discovery.
The researchers infected human malignant glioblastoma cells with the Zika viurs. After 24 hours, the tumor cells displayed moderate structural changes. But, the most change was seen after 48 hours. The cells were almost totally altered.
5. Brain Tumors
Thanks to the findings of Dr. Matthias Gromeier, of Duke University Medical Center, doctors could soon be using the poliovirus to treat recurring malignant brain tumors. Gromeier found out that a modified form of the poliovirus attaches itself to tumor cells and essentially eliminates them. What’s more is that the virus does so without harming any normal cells. The treatment, known as recombinant nonpathogenic polio-rhinovirus chimera or PVSRIPO, has a three-year survival rate of 21 percent. Just 4 percent of patients with recurring brain tumors have a three-year survival rate when undergoing standard treatment.
4. Intestinal Illnesses
A study published in August 2016 showed that some viruses in your intestines could be beneficial. The viruses, called bacteriophages, live inside the bacteria in your gut. According to a NPR article, researchers identified 23 bacteriophages that were associated with a healthy gut. More than half of the healthy study participants had these viruses in common. They were less common, however, in people with illnesses like colitis and Crohn’s disease. “We speculate — and clearly at this point, it is speculation — that these viruses help maintain your health,” Mark Young, a virologist at Montana State University, said in the NPR article.
3. Chest Infection
Doctors used a virus that dwells in ponds to cure an elderly man’s chest infection. Open heart surgery left the 76-year-old with a chest infection that was resistant to bacteria. Several attempts to treat the infection with antibiotics failed. That’s because antibiotics do not help viral infections. Doctors, therefore, turned to bacteriophages to treat the man’s condition. The bacteriophages, known as OMKO1, were extracted from a pond in Niantic, Connecticut. According to International Business Times, the FDA and the Yale University Human Investigation Committee approved the use of the bacteriophages.
According to Biomedical and Pharmacology Journal, genetically-modified measles can potentially treat multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer). During a trial at the Mayo Clinic, researchers intravenously administered 10,000 times the typical dosage of measles vaccine to two women with multiple myeloma. Both patients saw a reduction or elimination of tumors. The treatment, however, was not without side effects. Both patients suffered short-term symptoms such as fever, low blood pressure, and rapid heart attack.
NOTE: The modified measles virus is also being tested as a treatment for brain and ovarian cancers.
In October 2015, the FDA approved a genetically modified form of a herpesvirus to treat melanoma. The virus, known as talimogene laherparepvec (Imlygic®), or T-VEC, is the only oncolytic virus to be approved by the FDA.
The virus is injected into tumors. Some patients even saw shrinkage of tumors that couldn’t be injected. This suggests that T-VEC can generate a systemic immune response, Dr. Howard Kaufman, of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said in an article on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
T-VEC has already gone through two trials. A phase 3 clinical trial involving 600 patients with melanoma is under way.
Would you be willing to undergo treatment via gene therapy? Have you already participated in a gene therapy clinical trial? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks for reading.