Alberta Cancer Foundation

Hope for Multiple Myeloma

A common virus that leaves healthy people feeling under the weather could be part of the foundation for a new treatment of multiple myeloma. Naturally-occuring reovirus typically manifests as flu-like symptoms such as respiratory infection. Alberta researchers are finding that the reovirus can kills myeloma cells.

In an Alberta Cancer Foundation-funded study published in the August issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research, scientists injected the reovirus into animal models containing human multiple myeloma cell lines. Unlike conventional cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which kill both cancerous and healthy cells, researchers found the virus targeted the cancer cells while leaving the normal, healthy cells alone.

Multiple myeloma, which represents about one per cent of all cancers, occurs when an accumulation of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow interferes with the production of normal blood cells.

“We’re not into human trials with this yet but it’s certainly where we’re heading,” says Dr. Don Morris, lead author of the study, medical oncologist and a member of the University of Calgary’s Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute.

Morris says the treatment might be used in future in conjunction with other cancer therapies. “We’ve recently found that the combination of reovirus and other new therapies currently used in the treatment of myeloma work better together,” he says.

“Reovirus has the ability to multiply within the cancer cells unlike chemotherapy drugs, which have a dose limitation due to side effects to the patient,” says Chandini Thirukkumaran, PhD, first author of the study, research assistant professor in oncology and member of the University of Calgary’s Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute.

Some experts estimate there will be approximately 2,400 new cases of multiple myeloma in Canada this year − 230 of them in Alberta.