London, Jan 25 : Researchers have modified a flu virus which could successfully delay the growth of pancreatic cancer, promising a new treatment for the aggressive disease.
The flu virus could also be combined with existing chemotherapy to improve chances of survival, which is the lowest in pancreatic cancer, with fewer than five per cent of patients diagnosed surviving for five years or more, the researchers said.
"We've shown for the first time that pancreatic cancers can be specifically targeted with a modified version of the common flu virus," said lead author Stella Man from the Queen Mary University of London.
"If we manage to confirm these results in human clinical trials, then this may become a promising new treatment for pancreatic cancer patients and could be combined with existing chemotherapy drugs to kill persevering cancer cells," Man added.
Pancreatic cancer cells contain a specific molecule called alpha v beta 6, which is found on the surface of many of the cancer cells but, crucially, not on normal cells.
In the study, published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, the team modified the flu virus to display an additional small protein on its outer coat that recognizes and binds to alpha v beta 6 -molecules.
Once the virus enters the cancer cell, the virus replicates, producing many copies of itself prior to bursting out of the cell and thereby destroying it in the process.
The newly released viral copies can then bind onto neighbouring cancer cells and eventually removing the tumour mass altogether.
Tests on human pancreatic cancer cells, grafted onto mice, showed that the virus could inhibit cancer growth.
It is also more specific and efficacious than previous viral versions and has co-operated with the currently used chemotherapy drugs, the researchers said.
However, advancement towards human clinical trials will require more time, they noted.