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UCSD Pits Herpes Against Melanoma

Audio

Aired 7/6/09

UC San Diego is taking part in a clinical trial that pits herpes against melanoma cancer.

— UC San Diego is taking part in a clinical trial that pits herpes against melanoma cancer.

Dr. Gregory Daniels says the idea to use viruses to infect and kill cancer has been around for a hundred years. And the current trial to fight melanoma is a new use of an old idea. The UCSD medical oncologist says the herpes virus, here, has been engineered to make it safe for non-cancerous body cells. Then it's injected into the cancer tumor where it and start killing the cancer cells.

"That process is, as you can imagine, alarming to the body," he says. "It alerts the immune system that there's a battle going on and the immune system rushes in too."

Daniels says scientists already know this treatment kills melanoma. But they don't know if it actually makes people live longer. The trial will be complete within about a year and a half. Melanoma begins as a skin caner. Daniels says it kills up to 17,000 people a year in the U.S.