I talk about how viruses and endogenous retroviruses can cause cancer (and all kinds of other diseases) all the time here on ERV. But one thing I hope I highlight for you all as well is how the scientific community can use viruses as a tool. We can take advantage of their evolved tricks and our immune systems evolved tricks to create systems to treat diseases that have nothing at all to do with viruses or their associated diseases. Turn the tables on parasites– use them for our advantage.

Gene therapy in humans, and viral promoters in GMO crops are a couple obvious examples that Ive written about before.

Here is another neat idea involving RNA viruses and cancer:

Replicase-based plasmid DNA shows anti-tumor activity

RNA viruses have a stage in their life-cycle that is unlike anything found in eukaryotes– They have to use one RNA strand to create more RNA which requires an RNA-RNA polymerase, and creates dsRNA. You have no RNA-RNA polymerase. You have no dsRNA. So your cells have pattern recognition sensors whos sole job is to look for dsRNA, aka viral infection. If a cell senses dsRNA in its guts, it kills itself, and sends out warning flares to all the cells around it “OMFG U GUAIS I IZ INFECTED U MITE BE INFECTED AAAAAAAAAARRGURGLEDEAD!”

What does this have to do with cancers?

Well, some tumors stumble upon ways to evade your immune system. Apparently its not that hard, because they all figure out some way to do it.

So these researchers thought “What if we could take the immune system out of the picture? What if we could get the tumor to kill itself?” And thats where viruses come in. They delivered chemically treated DNA (to get the cells to suck it up) that coded for the front end of a virus– the part that codes for the RNA-RNA polymerase. Once that DNA was in the tumor, the RNA-RNA polymerase was made, which made lots and lots of dsRNA. Even tumor cells knows dsRNA is fucked up, and the tumors killed themselves.


There are other pattern-recognition sentinels in your cells. All of your DNA is methylated (epigenetics). Bacterial DNA that you prep in the lab isnt. So when the artificial DNA was introduced into the tumors, even without making any RNA-RNA polymerase, the non-methylated DNA activated the ‘WE GOTS BACTERIA PEOPLES! WE GOTS NON-METHYLATED DNA HERE! I KIL MAISELFS NAU!’ alarms in the tumors.

They used this experimental treatment on 5 mice. The ‘viral’ dsRNA and the ‘bacterial’ non-methylated DNA successfully convinced the tumors to commit suicide. All five mice were alive and tumor-free by the end of the protocol. One out of five control mice was still alive (and had a ~9 mm tumor), 2/5 control plasmid mice were still alive (also with large tumors).

Yes, there are lots of ‘problems’ with this paper– only five mice per group, its ‘only in mice’, this would only work for ‘HI! IM A SINGLE TUMOR MASS!’ tumors, and not the twisty crazy hard-to-operate on tumor masses or blood-cancers, but its a neat example of how we can take a chunk of virus, a chunk of your immune response to viruses and bacteria, and use em to clear a tumor thats got nothing to do with microbiology at all.

Viruses arent just pests– they are technology.


  1. #1 kevin
    April 4, 2011

    Small quibble: you linked to TLR3 for the detection of dsRNA in the cells guts, but that’s an endosomal sensor mostly present on phagocytes to look for viruses outside of cells. The ubiquitous RNA sensors present in the cytoplasm of almost all nucleated cells are RIG-I and MDA-5.

    Otherwise… cool!

  2. #2 Sili
    April 4, 2011


    Someone really needs to do ERV, the animated series.

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    April 4, 2011

    Shouldn’t there be an evil laugh in here somewhere?

  4. #4 Michael
    April 4, 2011

    Viruses aren’t just pests– they are technology.

    LOL, I’ve long argued that viruses are the best example for alien life and alien technology that there is. To hell with spaceships and whatnot, these things are clearly machines.

    (Completely tongue-in-cheek, of course, but still…)

  5. #5 Zombie
    April 4, 2011

    Skimming my RSS feed I initially read that last sentence as “Viruses aren’t just pets…”

  6. #6 dangerfield
    April 4, 2011

    ditto, brilliant

  7. #7 SoulmanZ
    April 4, 2011

    If i read it right they are using plasmids to infect a tumour?

    So, how do they do that without infecting the rest of the body?

    Seems to me we already have ways to kill tumours, and the problem is targetted delivery

    That said, viruses are cool, and seeing them as tools is very very cool

    I am just struggling to see this as an incremental step, unless it will be easier to target tumour with a plasmid than it is with say, chemo. To me it actually sounds harder to be specific to tumour. Is there a clear path towards tumour specificity here?

    hmmm … on the other hand, viruses can generate tissue specificity, so you could do the equivalent of a radioiodine thyroid ablation, maybe? Like … uh, no I cant think of specific examples. Was thinking hepatitis, but then you would kill the entire liver, which isnt a good plan.

    Cervical cancer by piggybacking HPV?

    Actually, why doesnt the body already do this to HPV? What makes some viruses cause cancer and some cause apoptosis?

    Man, I do love a good think about new science though! Cheers if anyone answers

  8. #8 The Analyst
    April 4, 2011

    Experimentation with viruses gives me the chills.

    Oh, the potential consequences.

    And quite frankly, we don’t need viruses to treat breast cancer.

  9. #9 Alice
    April 5, 2011

    Haha, greatly written!

  10. #10 Diane Richards
    April 5, 2011


  11. #11 theshortearedowl
    April 5, 2011

    I’m with SoulmanZ. How do they get it to just hit the tumour cells?

  12. #12 Charl
    April 6, 2011

    Just because it amused me, especially the mouse-over text:


  13. #13 ErkLR
    April 7, 2011


    They injected lipid-plasmid complexes directly into the tumour, that’s how they specifically got the tumour. Lipid-mediated transfection is pretty inefficient, you need loads of DNA, so I’m guessing collateral damage was not much of a problem (though I don’t think they checked). So like was mentioned in the OP, this technique currently could only be used for a single solid mass.

    I think the idea of the paper is more “using this RNA-RNA pol to make cells kill themselves is interesting in principle” rather than “this is how we’re going to cure cancer with lipid-mediated transfection.”

    N.B. I only skimmed through the methods.

  14. #14 Samantha Vimes
    April 9, 2011

    I like that cells communicate in LOLspeak. 🙂

  15. #15 Hikari
    April 15, 2011

    The closest I’ve seen to an animated series is Moyashimon, a 2007 anime series about a college student who has the ability to see and communicate with microorganisms. It’s a lot of fun if you can find a copy of it.

  16. #16 Thomas
    NSW Australia
    July 4, 2012

    So many different aproaches to tackling Cancer yet still no cure? Primary cause of cancer is acidosis, cancer is a fungal growth similar to mould. Our immune system is not capable of continuous clensing of our system and at times it becomes too hard to maintain a healthy system so we become ill. Normal cells use oxygen, however cancer cells do not survive by ATP they feed on sugar. When the system becomes acidic we get sick easier. Alkaline systems with well oxyginated cells stay healthy. Since the introduction of fructrose we have had a sharp increase of diabetes type 2 and heart desease, to name a few and since we have been told to cover ourselves from the sun the increase of osteoperosis has increased. The Cancer council advertises slip slop and cover extremely well. But they do not advuise that we need the sun for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day to make vitamin D. Without vitamin D we get sick easier. Research alkaline and Cancer, Dr Otto Warhburg 1030 Nobel prize winner, And the fact that in 1928 a Norwegian Dr got an Nobel prize for recreating Cancer and being able to put it into his mice. In the last 100 years plus Cancer has Increased by over 500% and a few weeks ago I read that it increase by an estimated 73% by 2020 according to research? Read alternate Cancer Cure sites, and compare results with Pub Med, Look into EBC 46, Hydrogen Peroxide, DCA, Bi carbonate soda and Molasis, DR azwalrdel ? Turkish DR and his posionous flower cure that could cure cancer and AIDs, and recent alledged claims that AIDS was man Made, at USA Congressional hearing.
    Cancer cures are a trillion dollar business. Money matters human life is cheap. Recently I had 2 parents die from Cancer and I was the carere. I talked to the Doctors, and the Cancer Council, and did a lot of research. Now I am convinced that there will not be a common cure but something they can make more money on and try to pin it down to DNA and create a specific set of cures for over 100 or so cases. Cancer cellshave hard protein walls and it is hard to get them to be revealed by the immune system or white blood cells like AIDS cells. They mask themselves and avoid detection by the white blood cells. There were many other people with alternate cures that were put out of business depite very high sucess rates. Some were prosecuted, persued, threatened, and forced into leaving their cancer clinics. Some stories regarding the FDA and the bodies that were supposed to be helping people are atrocious and criminal. However, if you have the money, support and can convince the authorities despite loosing Supreme court cases you have the power and control.

New comments have been disabled.