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Who would've believed we could use a common cold virus to cure cancer? It sounds like science fiction - but it is about to become science fact!

Best of all, it's going to happen here in Scotland, in the first cancer institute in the world to be trusted to use the technique.

And Sunday Mail readers have helped to fund the research.

Professor Alan Balmain, of Canniesburn Hospital and the Beatson Institute near Glasgow, is looking forward to treating the first 30 patients over the next 18 months.

I spoke to him last week about his work. The cancers he hopes to treat are in the mouth - in the tongue, the palate and the larynx (voicebox).

They are known to be relatively resistant to treatment with drugs or radiotherapy, and they are difficult to remove completely with surgery. So the virus treatment offers new hope in the fight against them.

The theory is remarkably simple.

We have known for years that alcohol and tobacco smoke are somehow linked to the start of cancers in the mouth and throat.

Now scientists are beginning to understand what that link is.

All normal cells in the mouth and throat possess a gene, called p53, that helps to protect them from the effects of poisons - which is what tobacco and alcohol are!

The p53 gene also protects against the effects of virus infections like the common cold.

Obviously, it doesn't always work perfectly - for people still get colds. But it is pretty effective, in that cancers are relatively rare and we shake off colds relatively easily.

The big news is the discovery that cells that have turned cancerous no longer possess p53.

In the process of becoming malignant, the cells seem to get rid of the gene - and that helps the cancer grow faster and out of control

At the same time, this change is the cancer cell's weak spot.

For a virus that will kill cells that DON'T possess p53, but will be overwhelmed by the normal cells that DO have it, becomes a "magic bullet". against cancer.

It will kill only rogue cells.

One beauty of the treatment is that the virus will actually multiply inside the cancer cells.

So when they die, they will release many "daughter" cancer-killing viruses to infect all the neighbouring cancerous cells.

This effect goes on until all the susceptible cells are mopped up.

At that point, with no other cells to attack, the virus itself dies off, leaving no complications!

Professor Balmain and his colleagues have now got just such a virus. And we will be the first to tell you of the progress of his work.

Why should we be so privileged?

One reason is your generosity in supporting the Beatson Institute research.

Last year, readers of this column contributed pounds 5,000 to the Glasgow Beatson Cancer Research Campaign Funds. They did it by sponsored running in the Glasgow Half Marathon. So let's do it again.

The Doc's game if you are!

I'm looking for double the 50 runners who joined me last year - and for the money to be split between the Beatson and the Chest Heart and Stroke Association.

Why these two?

Because between them they cover the big killer diseases. And because it is guaranteed that every penny we raise will be spent in patient care and research in Scotland.

So get the kit out, and get training. The big run is in August - and it's time to start getting ready for it.

Watch this page for news about how to enter.

And how to get fit.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Smith, Tom
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 21, 1996
Next Article:Well Being; Surgery answering all your medical problems.

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