The idea that a virus could aid in killing cancer began to take hold after 1904, when scientists observed tumor regression in a cervical cancer patient after she received a rabies vaccination.1 Other anecdotal evidence that viruses could repress tumors appeared throughout the 1900s, but research tapered off as toxic effects outweighed the benefits. Now, recent advances have scientists revisiting abandoned notions. "It's a combination of a much improved understanding of virology and of tumor biology, and then genetic engineering, which allows us to put the two together and come up with much better agents," says David Kirn, head of viral and gene therapy, Imperial College School of Medicine, London.

Gene therapy originally emerged with the tenet that replication be restricted. Over the past decade, though, some in academia and in biotech firms have broken away--allowing, even encouraging, viral replication to selectively infiltrate and destroy only cancerous cells...

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