A bug that normally gives children the sniffles could help fight cancer.
Researchers are hopeful that reovirus, which usually causes mild colds or stomach upsets, has the power to shrink tumours.
The virus, which would be given to outpatients through a drip, could be used in future to fight diseases including skin and breast cancer.
The reovirus kills a cancer cell by entering it and replicating within it
Crucially, it seems to produce fewer side effects than conventional cancer treatments.
Human trials are being carried out and, if successful, experts predict a cancer-zapping drug based on the virus could be in widespread use in as little as three years.
University of Leeds researcher Professor Alan Melcher said: ‘Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are all valuable treatments but viruses are potentially a quite different side of treatment that could sit alongside them.’
Reovirus homes in on cancerous cells and kills them, as well as kick-starting the immune system to fight the disease.
Scientists feared the virus would need to be directly injected into the tumour. But a study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found it can be given in an intravenous drip.
Once in the body, it then travels on blood cells to tumours.
The virus is already being tested on people with head and neck cancers, with early results described as ‘encouraging’. If the trial is successful, the treatment could be in widespread use by 2015.
Dr Julie Sharp, of Cancer Research UK, said the study was promising. She added: ‘We look forward to seeing how this research develops and if this could one day become part of standard cancer treatment.’
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