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Cold virus may be skin cancer cure

The common cold virus in injected into a melanoma.
The common cold virus in injected into a melanoma.

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Medical Research

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Researchers at an Australian university believe they have developed a breakthrough showing skin cancer can be stopped by the common cold virus.

Skin cancer, or melanoma, is the fifth most common form of cancer.

Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with one out of every two people likely to develop some form of the disease during their lifetime.

A team led by Professor Darren Shafren at the University of Newcastle, about 150 kilometers north of Sydney, have established that malignant melanoma cells can be destroyed by infecting them with coxsackievirus, the common cold virus.

Their work is to appear in the January 2004 edition of Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"We believe this is a significant breakthrough in the development of the treatment of melanoma," Dr Shafren said in a statement released by the university Wednesday.

He said the results achieved so far using human cells and in animal studies had been "very exciting".

"If we can replicate that success in human trials, the treatment of this often fatal disease could be available within the next few years," he said.

Dr Shafren said the team believed the treatment could even be effective for people with advanced melanomas.

Shafren believes the team has made a breakthrough in treating skin cancer.
Shafren believes the team has made a breakthrough in treating skin cancer.

According to the university researchers, the projected process begins by injecting the common cold virus into a melanoma. The virus replicates itself and then, according to the projection, begins killing off the melanoma.

Within weeks, there is a reduction in the size of the melanoma and it eventually disappears.

When the secondary action begins, the team expects the virus to circulate through the body, finding and killing off melanomas. The effect is that the virus will seek and destroy melanomas that may be undetectable.

Dr Shafren noted that the coxsackievirus was not a manufactured drug or a genetically altered virus. Instead, it was a virus that occurred in the community.

"Viruses are seen as unhealthy organisms but we have identified a potential way they can be used by the body to fight and destroy disease," he said.

About 1000 Australians die from melanoma each year, and about 300,000 visit a doctor to have a skin cancer removed.

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