Unlikely viral allies

Lassa virus, which can cause deadly hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola, and was first described at Yale in 1969, kills approximately 5,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‒but now it’s helping in the fight against brain cancer. VSV, a virus related to rabies, previously showed promise getting past the blood-brain barrier and targeting cancer cells, but it could also cause a potentially lethal brain infection. Yale and Harvard researchers used viruses in which VSV proteins were replaced with portions of the Lassa virus, creating a safe “chimeric” virus that successfully destroyed brain tumors in mice without causing disease, according to a study published in the April issue of Journal of Virology. “We are very excited about these new chimeric viruses that contain genes from multiple viruses. They work well in targeting cancer in animals, and we hope that they will also work effectively if tested in humans,” said Tony van den Pol, Ph.D. ’77, professor of neurosurgery and the study’s senior author.