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Chinese Scientists Testing Possible Cancer-Killing Virus

A group of Chinese scientists says it has discovered and is testing a virus that could be used to kill cancer cells without harming normal ones.

Chinese state media say the virus, known as M1, was extracted from a "certain kind of mosquito" found in the southern province of Hainan.

The virus has been used to prevent growth in cancer cells of the liver, bladder, colon and rectum. So far, it has only been tested on mice.

The state-run China Radio International reported Thursday that scientists plan to test the virus on monkeys starting next week.

The team that discovered the virus is led by Yan Guangmei with the Zhangshan School of Medicine at Sun Yat-Sen University.

"This kind of mosquito was found by other Chinese scientists in 1964. Our achievement is that we proved the virus carried by these mosquitoes can possibly be used in cancer therapies," said Yan.

Yan has told reporters he believes the research could represent a breakthrough in cancer treatment, adding his team hopes to begin clinical trials within three years.

Michael Woodhead, a Sydney-based medical researcher and author who focuses on China, told VOA via Skype the research is being done by a "reputable group at a good university."

But he added that it is too early to say whether the method could be useful for treating cancer in humans.

"It's a very novel and a very interesting approach to treating cancer, but it's in the very early stages, very exploratory stages. There's been hardly any research published on this virus... about six or seven papers in total, which in scientific terms is very little, indeed," said Woodhead.

Woodhead said it could be years if not decades before the approach is used in clinical practice, if it ever even gets to that stage.

In the meantime, he said, China would be well-served to focus on known methods of preventing and treating cancer.

"There are still a lot of gaps in terms of just basic treatment of cancer and also just basic approaches to cancer. I mean, just the high rates of smoking. You could achieve a lot more in preventing cancer and fewer cancer deaths just by introducing limits on tobacco and smoking, for example," said Woodhead.

Nearly 2.5 million people die from cancer every year in China, which has one of the world's highest smoking rates.