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Altered flu virus could help combat pancreatic cancer, study finds

Altered flu virus could help combat pancreatic cancer, study finds

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Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have developed a mechanism by which an altered or modified flu virus inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.

Credit: Syda Productions/

Dr Gunnel Halldén and colleagues carried out the study, funded by the charity Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, that suggests this method could be used in current chemotherapy treatment and may increase the survival rates from this cancer. This study was published last week in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

Dr Stella Man, the first author of the study, explained that this was the first time a modified version of the flu virus was shown to specifically target pancreatic cancer cells.

The new virus specifically infects and kills pancreatic cancer cells, causing few side effects in nearby healthy tissue. Not only is our targeting strategy both selective and effective, but we have now further engineered the virus so that it can be delivered in the blood stream to reach cancer cells that have spread throughout the body.”

Dr Stella Man, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London

The researchers now need to prove the effectiveness of this method in human clinical trials for it to become integrated into pancreatic cancer treatment.Pancreatic cancer cells contain a specific molecule called (αvβ6) on their surface, which is not present on normal cells.

The researchers altered the flu virus in such as way that it would feature an additional small protein on its outer coat. This extra protein recognizes the αvβ6-molecules and attaches to it. Once bound, the virus enters the cell and starts to multiply.

The virus then bursts out of the cell with its multiple copies (much like a normal viral infection process) and thus destroys the cell. The new replica viruses then go on to bind with the other cancer cells in the vicinity, causing the whole of the tumor mass to be eliminated by the virus killing each cell. To date, the experiments that the researchers conducted used these viruses in lab mice with human pancreatic cancer cells.  

Pancreatic cancer is a significantly aggressive form of cancer, with low survival rates, and 9,800 people in UK are diagnosed with it each year. In 2014 there were 64,668 people living with pancreatic cancer in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of new cases of this cancer is 12.5 per 100,000 population per year with the number of deaths at 10.9 per 100,000 population per year.

The risk of getting this cancer over your lifespan is 1.6 percent ,according to the NCI. Most chemotherapies fail to control the progression of the disease, and less than 5 percent of diagnosed individuals survive over 5 years after starting treatment. In most cases diagnosis is late and the cancer progresses rapidly.

Modified viruses have been used extensively in several cancers wherein it has shown promise. According to Maggie Blanks, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, this new research is “exciting” and called development in pancreatic cancer research “urgent” as more and more people are affected with this cancer.


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