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The shells of a common plant virus, inhaled into a lung tumor or injected into ovarian, colon or breast tumors, not only triggered the immune system in mice to wipe out the tumors, but provided systemic protection against metastases, researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Dartmouth University report.

The scientists tested a 100-year-old idea called in-situ vaccination. The idea is to put something inside a tumor and disrupt the environment that suppresses the , thus allowing the natural defense system to attack the malignancy.

That something—the hard coating of cowpea mosaic virus—caused no detectible side effects, which are a common problem with traditional therapies and some immunotherapies.

The team's research is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

"The cowpea virus-based nanoparticles act like a switch that turns on the system to recognize and fight against the tumor - as well as to remember it," said Nicole Steinmetz, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve, appointed by the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

"The particles are shockingly potent," said Steven Fiering, professor of microbiology and immunology at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine. "They're easy to make and don't need to carry antigens, drugs or other immunostimmulatory agents on their surface or inside."

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