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IWK researcher finds the measles virus can kill cancer cells

HALIFAX – A strange connection has been made in the medical world, between the measles virus and battling cancer, and that connection was made right here in Halifax.

Dr. Chris Richardson worked for six years at his lab at the IWK Health Centre when he made the important discovery about cancer cells on Sunday, November 21, 2010.

“It was the highlight of my life,” Dr. Richardson said on Thursday.

He says viruses attach to receptors on cells, and he discovered the measles virus in receptors will actually kill some cancer cells.

Richardson is the senior scientist at the hospital, among several other titles.

Money raised in the annual “Pink in the Rink” fundraiser by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) helped fund this landmark research. The research could eventually lead to a cure for not only breast cancer, but other cancers.

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“The last one we discovered was called the epithelial receptor and it’s found on a lot of cancers called adenocarcinomas,” Richardson said. “Breast cancer is an adenocarcinoma and so are a number of lung cancers, bladders cancers and colon cancers.”

Dr. Richardson says funding is tight for research grants and if you get one, it’s usually cut by 26 per cent. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation helped fund his research and is excited to have a breakthrough happen in Halifax.

“We’re absolutely amazed by what Dr. Richardson has accomplished,” said Jane Parsons of the CBCF. “We can’t do this research without our donors.”

The research has continued with more discoveries.

“We’re using the measles virus and a related virus which we’ve engineered, and we’re doing this to make it more effective, more safe, and these viruses will actually infect the tumor,” said Dr. Richardson. “So the virus enters the cells of the tumor and causes them to die, but it also elicits an immune response against this tumor.”

The testing has been done on mice.

“We’ve put human tumors into these mice and it generally works quite well,” Dr. Richardson said. “We’re also trying to take these into clinical trials in humans. You have to be careful about safety.”

Dr. Richardson says his discovery has led to important collaborations with researchers around the world.

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“People in Taiwan and California want to collaborate with us now and try and take our discovery to clinical trials and commercialize it,” he said. “I’ll never get rich out of it but it will do some people a lot of good I think.”

He admits though, it’s still in the early stages and won’t be on the market for some time.

“I would think in 20 years this will be routine. The trials will be done in the next 5 to 10 years,” he said.

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