Fighting Cancer with Viruses: Microbial Minutes

Oct. 3, 2023

Antibodies targeting remnants of ancient viruses play a role in anti-tumor immune responses and immunotherapy. How might these findings improve outcomes of cancer treatment?

What's Hot in the Microbial Sciences?

ASM presents Microbial Minutes, a video series of trending topics in the microbial sciences.

Researchers discovered that antibodies against endogenous retroviruses (ERVs; relics of ancestral retroviral infections that occurred thousands-millions of years ago) promote anti-tumor immune responses and the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) in mice and human patients with lung cancer. Here, we discuss these findings, and their implications for the development and deployment of cancer therapeutics. We also explore the deliberate application of oncolytic viruses (OV) for treating cancer. Key take-aways and resources used in this Microbial Minutes are listed below. 

Key Take-Aways

  • ERV-targeting antibodies are implicated in anti-tumor immune responses in lung cancer and may modulate the effects of ICB. The findings open doors for development of novel therapeutics, such as anti-cancer vaccines containing ERV genes. 
  • Oncolytic viruses represent a novel cancer therapy. Integration of viral cDNA into cells could be a viable delivery method for delivering OVs to the site of a tumor.  
  • Ultimately, viruses—and their integrated genetic material—are important players in cancer immune responses and therapeutics. 


The Studies

  • Ng K.W., et al. Antibodies against endogenous retroviruses promote lung cancer immunotherapy. Nature. April 12, 2023. 
  • Sam M., et al. Engineering Oncolytic Coxsackievirus A21 with Small Transgenes and Enabling Cell-Mediated Virus Delivery by Integrating Viral cDNA into the Genome. Journal of Virology. April 18, 2023

Additional Sources

  • Bryant M. DNA traces of ancient viruses may help fight cancer, study finds. The Guardian. April 15, 2023.
  • Gallagher J. Million-year-old viruses help fight cancer, say scientists. BBC News. April 15, 2023.
  • Grandi N., and Tramontano, E. Human Endogenous Retroviruses Are Ancient Acquired Elements Still Shaping Innate Immune Responses. Frontiers in Immunology. Sept. 10, 2018. 
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors. National Cancer Institute. Reviewed April 7, 2022. 

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Author: Madeline Barron, Ph.D.

Madeline Barron, Ph.D.
Madeline Barron, Ph.D. is the Science Communications Specialist at ASM. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.