Herpes virus used to treat melanoma

February 17, 2010 8:59:04 AM PST
Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in the melanocytes, cells that produce pigment melanin. Melanoma can also begin in other pigmented tissues such as the eyes or intestines. In 2009, an estimated 68,720 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed and about 8,600 deaths were accounted for, according to the National Cancer Institute.

TREATMENTS: The standard surgical procedure used to remove melanoma tumors is excision, or surgical removal. The procedure can be a complete cure for most patients with thin melanomas. Another procedure used to treat melanoma, specifically on the head and neck, is Moh's surgery. Moh's can be used when the cancer has not yet spread to other areas of the body.

During Moh's surgery, the surgeon removes the cancer layer by layer, guided by a microscope, until the whole tumor is gone. Other options for treatment are radiation therapy, chemotherapy and experimental treatments such as immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a popular experimental treatment that encourages the body's own immune system to seek out and kill melanoma cells (Source: Mayo Clinic).

HERPES IN CANCER TREATMENT: Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), are testing a type of immunotherapy for melanoma using engineered herpes viruses. Using a needle similar to that used for the flu vaccine, researchers inject the herpes virus into a melanoma lesion. The idea is the presence of the new virus alerts the body's immune system to attack the cancerous area. Gregory Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher and medical oncologist at UCSD, says the virus is engineered to be safe for non-cancerous cells, and the idea of using viruses to fight cancer has been around for hundreds of years.


Jacqueline Carr
Public Relations
UCSD Medical Center
(619) 543-6427