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A New Use for the Smallpox Vaccine


Now that smallpox has been all but eradicated, it may be time to find a new use for the smallpox vaccine. Researchers at California-based biotech company Jennerex Biotherapeutics are using the vaccine to help liver cancer patients survive longer, reports New Scientist's Debora MacKenzie. The live virus in the vaccine, Vaccinia, is attracted to tumors, MacKenzie says. "It prefers to infect cancer cells because they turn off the antiviral protein interferon and turn on signaling molecules that attract Vaccinia," she adds. "Early experiments in a variety of tumors reported in 2007 suggested that this might make the virus, which has been used safely in millions of people, a revolutionary cancer treatment." Now, Jennerex researchers have genetically modified Vaccinia — one change deprives the virus of an enzyme found in cancer cells in abundance, in order to make cancer cells even more attractive to it than normal cells; and the other change causes the virus to make a protein that triggers an attack by the immune system. In a recent trial of 30 people with late-stage liver cancer, those given the vaccine survived twice as long as control patients — 14 months compared to seven, MacKenzie says.

The Scan

Breast Cancer Risk Related to Pathogenic BRCA1 Mutation May Be Modified by Repeats

Several variable number tandem repeats appear to impact breast cancer risk and age at diagnosis in almost 350 individuals carrying a risky Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA1 founder mutation.

Study Explores Animated Digital Message Approach to Communicate Genetic Test Results to Family Members

In the Journal of Genetic Counseling, the approach showed promise in participants presented with a hypothetical scenario related to a familial hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome diagnosis.

Computational Tool Predicts Mammalian Messenger RNA Degradation Rates

A tool called Saluki, trained with mouse and human messenger RNA data, appears to improve mRNA half-life predictions by taking RNA and genetic features into account, a Genome Biology paper reports.

UK Pilot Study Suggests Digital Pathway May Expand BRCA Testing in Breast Cancer

A randomized pilot study in the Journal of Medical Genetics points to similar outcomes for breast cancer patients receiving germline BRCA testing through fully digital or partially digital testing pathways.