DEC 26, 2015 4:56 PM PST

Cowpea Plant Virus Beneficial to Human Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Plants get infected with viruses just like what we do. Scientists recently discovered that a virus that infects the cowpea plant could actually empower the immune cells to attack cancerous cells and prevent metastasis.

From Case Western Reserve University and Dartmouth University, scientists are studying the “cowpea mosaic virus” and its ability to wake up the immune system after being maniacally turned off by tumor cells.

"The cowpea virus-based nanoparticles act like a switch that turns on the immune system to recognize and fight against the tumor," said Nicole Steinmetz, PhD, from Case Western Reserve.
Cowpea Plants

These “nanoparticles” from the outside of the virus are enough to stimulate the immune system without causing any currently known adverse side effects. This potential of a non-toxic cancer treatment is a promising option in comparison to current treatments like chemotherapy that are toxic to both cancerous and healthy cells.

In addition, it seems that the stimulatory viral particles are efficiently made in the lab, said Steven Fiering, PhD, from Dartmouth University. During their studies of this potential new ingredient for cancer therapies, the researchers were able to disassociate the viral particles that stimulated the human immune system from the rest of the virus that could cause disease.

"It's not cytotoxic, there's no RNA or lipopolysaccharides involved,” said Steinmetz.

Although the team demonstrated a clear reaction by the human immune system when mosaic virus particles were inhaled or injected, the precise mechanism that causes the reaction is still unknown. In mice models of various types of cancer, mosaic virus particle injection promoted an immune response that either attacked or completely prevent tumor metastasis. Their study was published in Nature Nanotechnology this week. 

Source: EurekAlert
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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