Ape Virus Shrinks Mesothelioma Tumors in Lab


A virus that causes leukemia in gibbon apes may have the power to help fight malignant mesothelioma in people.

Gibbon ape leukemia virus (GALV) has been tested for years as a viral vector, a carrier of therapeutic genetic information, in the treatment of various human illnesses, including cancer. A new study in Japan compared GALV with a leukemia virus derived from mice to see which carrier communicated most efficiently with mesothelioma cells.

While both types of viruses replicated in most of the mesothelioma cell lines tested, the mouse-derived virus was not effective in a mesothelioma cell line called ACC-MESO-1. In this cell line, only the GALV spread efficiently both in culture and in mice that had been given human mesothelioma xenografts. GALV carrying a “prodrug activator gene” (which triggers expression of a suicide gene in infected cells) efficiently killed ACC-MESO-1 mesothelioma cells.

The result was “significant inhibition” of mesothelioma tumor growth in the mice. Further testing showed that the ACC-MESO-1 mesothelioma cells had more cellular receptors for GALV than do normal mesothelial cells or even other types of mesothelioma cells, suggesting that GALV could effectively target these cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone.

In an article summarizing these findings in Cancer Gene Therapy, the Japanese research team concluded, “These data indicate the potential utility of GALV… in the treatment of mesothelioma.” The use of GALV or another viral vector, such an adenovirus (cold virus), to carry anti-cancer information into mesothelioma or other cancer cells is known as virotherapy or gene therapy. Research into this and other novel cancer treatments is especially important for mesothelioma, a fast-growing cancer which rarely responds to standard therapies.


Kubo, S, et al, “Highly efficient tumor transduction and antitumor efficacy in experimental human malignant mesothelioma using replicating gibbon ape leukemia virus”, November 8, 2013, Cancer Gene Therapy, Epub ahead of print.

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