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Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Institute researchers may have discovered a one-two punch for treating colorectal cancers

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According to the World Health Organization, colorectal cancers are the second leading cause of cancer death.

What if you could make cancer cells act like they have a virus weakening them? Van Andel Institute researchers call it viral mimicry.

“This wakes up the immune system.”

Dr. Ali Chomiak is a Van Andel Institute Scientist working on preclinical research.

“So, I don’t know if you’ve heard the phrase of a ‘cold tumor’ or a ‘cold immune tumor?’ It means it’s hiding from your immune system. And so, this is a way for us to flag the cancer and say, ‘hey, I’m here. I’m awake’ and for your own immune system to attack your own cancer cells.”

The concept of cancer cells expressing a virus even when they don’t have been done in the past using a drug called a DNMT inhibitor. Dr. Chomiak wanted to improve the viral mimicry response. She added an inhibitor called EZH2 with DNMT.

“And lo and behold in the cancer cells, in the dishes that we treat them on, it worked...So it’s this one-two punch to target two ways the cancer cell is trying to remain a cancer cell so that we can open it up to this viral mimicry, to your immune cell recognizing it and attacking it and to the cancer cells dying.”

A Phase I clinical trial is next. The study published in Science Advances.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.