‘Trojan’ virus hope in battle to kill off prostate cancer

RESEARCHERS in Yorkshire are developing a new treatment which smuggles a specially-designed virus into the body to kill cancerous cells.

Experts from Sheffield and York universities believe the “Trojan” technique potentially offers a safer treatment for prostate tumours which every year claim the lives of 10,000 men in the UK.

It uses a patient’s own white blood cells to deliver viruses which have been tailored to grow in and destroy cancer cells.

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The technique uses less virus than in previous approaches which have restricted the use of viruses against prostate cancer; protects the virus from attack from the body’s immune system; and offers a safer alternative to existing virus therapies. It opens up the possibility of treating other cancers using the same pathway.

Prof Claire Lewis, of Sheffield University’s department of infection and immunity, said: “This new method will make it much easier to treat hard to reach cancers as it uses part of the body’s own immune system to do so.”

The project was launched with funding from the charity Yorkshire Cancer Research (YCR) and completed with cash from the Prostate Cancer Charity and the Prompt prostate cancer collaborative programme. The virus was developed in Sweden as part of a EU-wide collaboration involving the YCR Cancer Research Unit at York.

Prof Norman Maitland, from York, said: “While the study is still in the pre-clinical testing stage, it has met all requirements so far for both safety and efficacy, showing a remarkable improvement over current techniques in both the amount of virus used, and the ability to target small disparate tumour deposits.”

Helen Rippon, head of research management at the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “This new research, which explores a highly innovative approach to treating prostate cancer, is an exciting development. It is important to remember, however, that this technology is still in its infancy and it will still be some time before it reaches men with prostate cancer.”

In separate research, scientists from Hull University, together with colleagues from Switzerland, have revealed details of laboratory tests which show targeted photodynamic therapy can completely eradicate some cancers.

Researchers linked light-sensitive molecules with antibodies which target tumour blood vessels, starving tumours of oxygen and nutrients. It caused them to disappear completely with no re-growth in the next 100 days.

Ross Doyle, of Hull’s department of chemistry, said: “There are already drugs in clinical use which target tumour blood vessels, but these only inhibit growth rather than completely kill the tumour.

“By using this form of targeted photodynamic therapy, we were able to completely kill the tumour in our models. Though this is still a long way from being used on patients, it does hold exciting potential for the treatments of some of the most common skin cancers.”