Studying the viruses in animals that have no ability to cross over to humans and cause death or serious illness can sometimes have surprising results. The myxoma virus, which causes myxomatosis in rabbits, was used as a pesticide in Australia. Now, the virus has been found to kill cancerous cells in humans and also is credited with preventing one of the most serious complications that are found in a bone marrow transplant – the graft-versus-host disease.
This could have an extremely positive impact on the future success of bone marrow transplants for humans. The myxoma virus is benign in humans, despite its fatal impact on rabbits. Therefore, the discovery of its benefits to those who require a bone marrow transplant is a welcome one. Not only can it prevent the complications, but it also was found to kill cancer cells at the same time. This means a two-pronged approach to eradicating leukemia through one treatment.
Progress Involving the Use of the Myxoma Virus Has Long Way to Go
Researchers hope to expand on their current research, utilizing a mouse impact study to move their research closer to a point where it can be used successfully for humans, particularly those who are at a high risk for graft-versus-host disease. These individuals are typically the ones that have difficulty finding a donor and usually are attempting a successful transplant with only a partial match.
The current status of the studies involving the Myxoma Virus is preliminary, since the study was done only in the laboratory involving human cells, when the virus was attached to white blood cells, known as T cells. The virus and T cell combination was then added to a bone marrow transplant, which is when they were found to kill cancer cells and prevent the graft-versus-host disease.
Potential for Virus to Help with Other Cancers Is Unknown
It is hoped that the process of using the myxoma virus to prevent graft-versus-host disease and also to kill cancer cells can be adjusted to have positive effects on other forms of cancer. In the meantime, the virus will be studied and a clinical grade of the virus created. Future trials will need to be funded, and the process refined.
Still, the potential benefits of a virus that is fatal in rabbits is ironic and yet intriguing. It is extremely difficult to understand at times the processes that nature uses to keep one species from over-populating while it provides another species the means to keep more of its ill population alive.