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Scientists from Leeds University have discovered that viruses can be modified to seek out and destroy cancer cells.
Laboratory tests revealed how a virus can have proteins added to it, allowing it to recognise unique markers on the surface of tumours.
According to campaign and research groups, patients could enjoy real benefits from the development, which might also lead to treatments specifically tailored to their disease.
They say the findings can deliver gene therapy more effectively to the cancers they are intended to treat.
The researchers now plan to move from lab test to human testing.
Dr John Chester, who led the Cancer Research UK-funded study published in Gene Therapy, said the modified viruses deliver genes that could make cancer cells more sensitive to drugs.
He said they could also introduce “suicide” genes to the cancer cell or replace the missing and defective genes which caused the cancer to develop – with an approach known as gene therapy.
Copyright Press Association 2010