PhD student Nicolas (Nic) Sokolowski is part of the Centre for Virus Research at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, and his focus is to design a virus that will help treat melanoma patients.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and according to the Cancer Council, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old, making this research a significant hope for public health.
In his first year at the Westmead Institute, Nic has conducted the preliminary testing on how the herpes simplex virus reacts with cancer cells – investigating how the virus breaks down and kills solid melanoma cancers, and how it could be more effective.
His project should ultimately result in a modified herpes virus which targets cancerous cells in the body without affecting normal cells. His virus will also be able to more effectively target a pathway that is utilised by many different cancers for enhanced growth and survival. Cancers often develop resistance to drugs that currently target this pathway.
Treatment for cancer is usually via a combination of therapies that kick in at various stages of the tumour life cycle. Adding a viral treatment to this approach will help avoid tumours becoming resistant – an increasing problem for a wide range of public health areas.
The concept of using viruses to target cancer is not new, but only very recently have there been positive breakthroughs. This is encouraging for researchers like Nic who have the opportunity to work collaboratively with cancer researchers and turn this discovery based research into more translational research with real impacts on Australian health.