Leading Research into Head & Neck Cancer

How a robot has become indispensable in the search for a new viral/drug combination for head and neck cancer

Uncovering synthetically lethal combinations of oncolytic viruses with novel targeted therapies

Tag: New treatment

<strong>Tag:</strong> New treatment

Dr Victoria Roulstone has been investigating viruses that have the ability to kill cancer cells, known as oncolytic viruses. Reovirus, a naturally occurring human virus, has shown some positive results in pre-clinical tests in a wide range of tumour types and has now reached final testing in clinical trials. Early clinical studies have shown that when it is used alone this virus demonstrates modest effects on cancer cells but when used in combination with new anti-cancer drugs there is a potentially greater effect.   It has been noted however, that in clinical trials, not all patients benefited from these treatments. This has highlighted the need to identify which combinations of oncolytic viruses with anti-cancer drugs offer the most effective treatment for head and neck cancer patients.

Researchers are used to complexity, it’s what they’re trained to do, but the assistance of a robot is invaluable when faced with carrying out a high throughput pharmacological test on a range of 80 different drugs, in combination with a cancer-killing virus. Victoria is utilising the skills of a sophisticated Hamilton Microlab robot in this project which is looking for novel drug combinations that could enhance the tumor killing properties of Reovirus.

The Hamilton robot helps with the practical implementation of a complex test of this kind that is testing all the possible permutations of the 80 drugs with Reovirus. The robot was used specifically for the purpose of making the study quicker and easier and it is also able to remove human error, an almost inevitable result from a project of this complexity. The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has used the Hamilton robot on similar experiments where large quantities of drugs in numerous combinations need to be analysed and it is now fully optimised and programmed to be at the ‘top of its game’ in terms of accuracy.

Dr Joan Kyula, also working in this area explains: “Reovirus has been shown to be sensitive in melanoma and some drugs from these experiments were shown to enhance the viral effect. We are currently looking to see how head and neck cancer cells can be sensitised further to the virus when we combine it with cancer drugs. By using the virus in combination with these proven cancer drugs, we are assessing which specific drug/virus combination will enhance cancer killing efficiently.”

This project is testing the drug/virus combinations in the laboratory, clinical studies will follow and in later studies it is hoped to explore the mechanism by which the virus kills the cancer in this combination context.


Hamilton Microlab robot
Hamilton Microlab robot

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Dr Victoria Roulstone
Dr Victoria Roulstone

Project type:

Project Leader:
Professor Kevin Harrington

Dr Victoria Roulstone

Commencement date:
July 2016

Length of project:
4 years

Funding provided:

Funder:                                   Mark Donegan Fellowship 

The Institute of Cancer Research

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