Dr. Chris Richardson
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity, Cancer
Pitting measles against cancer:
A world expert on the measles virus, Dr. Chris Richardson has discovered three key receptors that allow the measles virus to enter and infect our cells. What he’s also discovered is that these measles receptors are more than a thousand times more plentiful on cancer cells than they are on healthy cells.
“We’ve found measles receptors in high concentrations on lung, breast, colon, bladder and prostate cancer cells,” notes Dr. Richardson, a professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Dalhousie Medical School and a researcher in the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at the IWK Health Centre. “Because there are so many measles receptors on these cancer cells, it’s very easy to infect them with the measles.”
Once one cancer cell is infected with the measles, Dr. Richardson says the virus spreads quickly to neighbouring cancer cells. Once this happens, “the invading measles virus blows away the cancer cell membranes, creating one giant cancer cell that then explodes,” he says. “At the same time, the immune system attacks measles antigens on the infected cells, making the cancer-fighting effect even more dramatic.”
Dr. Richardson and his team want to learn more about the measles receptors they’ve discovered, so they can engineer the virus into a highly targeted treatment for cancer. Dr. Richardson and his team are also studying how Hepatitis C infection leads to inflammation that sets the stage for 90 per cent of the liver cancers in North America. “We want to learn how we can stimulate certain aspects of the immune system to protect the liver from cancer.” he says. “We’re exploring the immun-stimulating effects of several different plants that may protect against this cancer.”
Dr. Richardson’s virus research also has positive applications in the animal world, toward finding a more effective way to treat cancer in dogs. Dr. Richardson has teamed up with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph to see if the vaccine strain of the canine distemper virus can provide a last ray of hope to very sick dogs. "Cancer is the leading cause of death in older dogs and is quite common in the dog population overall," says Dr. Richardson. "We hope to achieve remission of advanced cancer in these dogs - if our results are promising, this therapy could be available within the next few years."
Dr. Richardson is also working with partners in Morocco to develop vaccines against goat pox and another virus that decimate goat herds in developing nations. All the while, he continues his research on the measles virus and its receptors. His current focus is developing PVRL4 into a diagnostic test to reveal how likely a woman's breast cancer is to spread - and how well it may respond to treatment with the vaccine strain of the measles virus. This diagnostic marker can also be applied to other cancers, including those of the prostate, colon, pancreas, and lung.