An artist's rendering of a brain tumor that can be killed off with the help of a virus. (credit: C. Bickel / Science Translational Medicine (2016))

To defeat the deadliest of cancers, it's time to unleash the viruses.

In a small clinical trial with brain cancer patients, a tumor-seeking virus successfully invaded cancer cells and smuggled in molecular detonators, allowing doctors to selectively blast the deadly growths with a toxic drug. In the trial’s 45 participants, who were fighting the most aggressive forms of brain cancer known, the virus-drug combo nearly doubled their average survival time while showing no dangerous side effects. The finding, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, demonstrates the utility of such viruses and also provides a green light for the treatment strategy to move on to more trials.

These brain cancers usually have few treatment options and lead to “dismal clinical outcomes,” the authors wrote. However, this new viral therapy has “the potential to fill this medical need,” they concluded.

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