Fighting lung cancer with a virus

Manish PatelCaring for cancer patients inspired Manish Patel, D.O., to become a researcher.

“The hands of clinical oncologists are tied by limited effective treatment options,” says Patel, who is a hematologist and oncologist, and part of the U’s Medical School faculty. “Conducting cancer research provides an opportunity to make new treatments possible.”

As a Masonic Scholar, Patel aims to do just that. He and his colleagues are testing an oncolytic virus that infects and kills lung cancer cells, while also raising an inflammatory response that scientists believe will enhance the effects of immunotherapy.

“The particular virus we are using is called vesicular stomatitis virus, which causes a limited illness in livestock naturally, but is not a known human pathogen,” Patel explains. “It is engineered to produce interferon, a protein that protects healthy cells from viral infection and can enhance the immune response to the virus. Because this virus does not naturally infect humans, most people are not immunized against it, allowing it to replicate and kill cancer cells.”  

So far, Patel and his team have shown that the virus successfully infects and kills lung tumors in animal models; one way the virus is able to do this is by activating an immune response. They’ve also shown that the vesicular stomatitis virus can enhance the effects of FDA-approved immunotherapy for lung cancer. A clinical trial testing this in people is ongoing, and patients at the U will soon be enrolled.

Now Patel and colleagues are studying combination therapies using the vesicular stomatitis virus and other immunologically active drugs or cytokines, which boost the immune system’s response. They also are exploring combining it with cellular therapies, all in hopes of developing better treatments.

“Throughout my time here, I have been able to fill funding gaps with support from Minnesota Masonic Charities. Without this support, it would have been difficult to keep my research efforts going in a sustained way.”

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