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  • Writer's pictureShrikant Soman

Weaponising Viruses to fight Diseases

Weaponising Viruses to fight Diseases




Yes. Human ingenuity has no bounds. While viruses are our number one enemy, the scientists have tweaked their programming to make them work as our soldiers to fight at the frontline of our battle against various diseases.


I am talking about VIROLOGY - the new emerging frontier science in viruses


Key takeaways

  • From Foe to Friend: Reprogramming Viruses to Fight Disease

  • Harnessing the Power of Viruses: A New Weapon in the Fight Against Illness

  • Unlocking Viral Secrets: Turning the Tables on Pathogens

  • Virology: The Next Frontier in Medicine



Remember those pesky viruses that make you sniffle and cough?

Forget the bad guys, some viruses might actually become our heroes! Researchers are looking into using them to fight diseases like cancer. How? By turning the tables! Imagine tiny warriors sneaking into bad cells, like cancer cells, and multiplying inside them, blowing them up from within. Those warriors? Modified viruses! This amazing new science is called "virotherapy". It  is kind of like training tiny soldiers to attack the enemy. While viruses are typically known for causing diseases, there is ongoing research into using viruses as a potential cure for certain diseases. This approach involves using viruses that are either naturally-occurring or modified in a laboratory to specifically target and kill cancer cells or other disease-causing agents.


One example of this approach is oncolytic virotherapy, which involves using viruses that selectively infect and replicate within cancer cells, leading to their destruction. Oncolytic viruses have shown promise in clinical trials for the treatment of certain types of cancer, including melanoma, ovarian cancer, and glioblastoma. Imagine, instead of harsh treatments that make you feel weak, sending in these tiny allies to do the dirty work!


 Another example of using viruses as a treatment for disease is in gene therapy, which involves using a virus to deliver a healthy copy of a gene to replace a faulty or missing gene that is causing a disease. Another way viruses might help is by delivering healthy genes. Think of them as delivery trucks bringing good instructions to replace faulty ones causing diseases. This is called "gene therapy."


But these viruses aren't just any bullies. They're carefully chosen and modified to only target cancer cells, leaving healthy ones unharmed. It's like giving the spies special uniforms that only bad guys recognize, so they don't attack good citizens.

This approach holds promise for various illnesses, like:

• Cystic fibrosis: Replacing a faulty gene that affects lung function.

• Sickle cell anemia: Fixing a gene that causes abnormal red blood cells.

• Blindness: Delivering genes that restore vision in certain genetic eye diseases.


The Dark Side of Virotherapy and Challenges Ahead

While virotherapy holds promise as a novel treatment for certain diseases, it's important to acknowledge the potential dangers associated with it. It's crucial to be informed and understand both the good and the bad before jumping to conclusions or spreading misinformation. Here's a note on the potential dangers of virotherapy:

1. Unintended Targeting:

• Engineered viruses, although designed to target specific cells, can potentially mutate or infect healthy cells, leading to unforeseen consequences.

• The complex interactions between modified viruses and the immune system are not fully understood, potentially leading to harmful immune responses.


2. Uncontrolled Replication:

• Some virotherapies rely on the virus replicating within the target cell. While designed to be self-limiting, unforeseen mutations could lead to uncontrolled replication, causing damage to healthy tissues.

• Accidental release or spread of the engineered virus outside of a controlled environment could have dangerous consequences for the public.


3. Ethical Concerns:

• Genetic engineering of viruses raises ethical questions about unintended consequences and potential misuse.

• Informed consent of participants in clinical trials is crucial, ensuring they understand the risks and benefits involved.


4. Long-term Effects:

• The long-term impact of virotherapy on the human body and the environment is still unknown, requiring careful monitoring and research.

• Potential integration of viral genetic material into the host genome presents an unknown risk and requires further investigation.


5. Regulatory Challenges:

• Establishing robust safety and efficacy guidelines for novel virotherapies is crucial to ensure responsible development and clinical use.

• Clear and ethical regulations are needed to prevent misuse and accidental release of engineered viruses.


Virotherapy Research in India: Exploring New Avenues in Treating Diseases

India has a vibrant research landscape, and virotherapy is an area seeing increasing interest. Here's a glimpse into some of the ongoing research in this field:

Cancer Treatment:

National Institute of Immunology (NII): Researchers at NII are exploring the use of adenoviruses modified to target specific cancer cells, showing promising results in preclinical studies for glioblastoma and head and neck cancers.

Indian Institute of Science (IISc): This institute focuses on developing oncolytic viruses that selectively target breast cancer cells and suppress tumor growth.

National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS): NCCS research involves using modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) vector-based oncolytic viruses for treating head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.


Other Diseases:

Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI): Researchers here are exploring the use of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) for gene therapy to treat cystic fibrosis and haemophilia.

Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE): MAHE scientists are investigating the potential of oncolytic viruses in treating hepatitis B and HIV infection.

International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB): This center focuses on developing viral vectors for delivering therapeutic genes for diseases like muscular dystrophy and beta-thalassemia.


Challenges and Future Directions:

Funding and Infrastructure: While research interest is increasing, securing funding and improving infrastructure for clinical trials remain challenges.

Regulatory Framework: Establishing clear and efficient regulatory pathways for novel virotherapies is crucial for their advancement.

Collaboration and Public Awareness: Stronger collaboration between research institutions, clinicians, and industry, along with public awareness, can accelerate progress and acceptance of these therapies.

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Source and links for further reading


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