‘Trojan horse’ bug that could transform cancer treatment

Prof Claire Lewis from Sheffield University
Prof Claire Lewis from Sheffield University
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WORLD-LEADING experts from Yorkshire today reveal how they have harnessed a ground-breaking “Trojan horse” technique to target cancer in a breakthrough they say could help thousands of people.

The experts from Sheffield University have deployed white blood cells to act as a Trojan horse to deliver a tumour-busting virus to stop the spread of cancer after treatment.

They found the cells surge into tumours after frontline chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and are now exploiting this to deliver a second potent blow after treatment to stop tumours growing back or spreading.

By injecting blood cells carrying the tumour-destroying virus into the bloodstream at the exact moment when the surge occurs, they smuggle in the virus which kills the cancer residue deep in the heart of what is left of tumours.

Prof Claire Lewis, of the university’s department of oncology, said: “Our Trojan horse can convert a patient’s own white blood cells into tiny tumour-killing machines which fight to prevent tumour re-growth after the end of chemo or radiotherapy treatment.

“This is very empowering for patients who have been undergoing rounds and rounds of chemotherapy or radiotherapy because treatment means it is their own white blood cells doing the work and blasting the cancer. This breakthrough means that we may now have developed a way of preventing cancer coming back after frontline treatments – many patients unfortunately die because of tumour re-growth or the spread of cancer so this is a ground-breaking discovery which could impact on thousands of lives.”

The research has been taken forward with initial support from the charity Yorkshire Cancer Research and later from Prostate Cancer UK.

Munitta Muthana, from the university’s department of infection and immunity, said it had been developed to treat prostate cancer but “has the potential to be used to treat patients with any form of cancer”.

Kate Holmes, from Prostate Cancer UK, said it was an “exciting development”.

“It demonstrates that this innovative method of delivering a tumour-killing virus direct to the cancer site is successful at reducing the development of advanced prostate tumours which have been treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” she said.

“If this treatment goes on to be successful in human trials, it could mark substantial progress in finding better treatments for men with prostate cancer which has spread to the bone and ensuring the impact of more traditional therapies is maximised.”

The research reported today in the US journal Cancer Research found the therapy completely eradicated prostate tumours after drug or radiation treatment.

It is hoped trials in prostate cancer patients could begin as early as next year.