The natural infectious power of four viruses could provide the key to battling I colon cancer, according to research being conducted at Duke University's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Scientists are using the viruses-vaccinia, fowlpox, adenovirus and alphavirus-to provoke the body's immune system to attack colon cancer cells.

"Cancer has a knack for eluding the immune system and masking itself as friend instead of foe," says lead researcher and Cancer Center director Dr. H. Kim Lyerly. "We've designed vaccines that more forcefully present cancer as the enemy to the patient's immune system than earlier vaccines have been able to do."

The most promising strategy under investigation is a one-two punch called prime and boost. In it, one vaccine is used to alert or prime the immune system, while a second vaccine boosts its response.

The five-year research and clinical project is being funded by a $10 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Two biotechnology companies, Alphavax Human Vaccines Inc. and Therion Biologics, will collaborate with Duke in the research.

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