FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Bird-borne virus may help treat prostate cancer

A new study at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine found that the Newcastle disease virus, a genetically engineered bird-borne illness, shows signs of fighting prostate cancer in humans.

Researchers Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, associate professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, along with Dr. Siba Samal, associate dean and chairman of the University of Maryland's Department of Veterinary Medicine, and Shobana Raghunath, a graduate student in Subbiah's laboratory from the university found that a genetically engineered form of Newcastle disease virus kills a range of prostate cancer cells, including hormone-resistant cancer cells. The research appears in the Journal of Virology's April edition.

"This potential treatment is available for immediate pre-clinical and clinical trials, but these are typically not done at the university level," Subbiah said. "We are looking for commercial entities that are interested in licensing the technology for human clinical trials and treatment. Newcastle disease virus has yet to be tested as a treatment for prostate cancer in patients."

About sixteen percent of men worldwide will develop prostate cancer. Current treatments include hormone treatments and/or chemotherapy, both of which have adverse side effects. Along with potentially being a new treatment method, Subbiah said that he hoped the new development will help decrease the adverse effects of existing hormone and chemotherapy.

Newcastle disease virus is found to be present in both domestic and wild bird species. The virus has economic implications for the poultry industry, as it widely affects chickens. Although humans in close contact with infected birds can experience mild conjunctivitis and flu-like symptoms, the virus poses no real threat to humans.

Recent advances in technology have made this potential for treatment possible. The correlation between Newcastle disease virus and cancer-fighting properties was first documented in the 1950s, but was not a real possibility without new advances in reverse genetics. Human clinical trials were attempted previously, with no significant success, but now Subbiah believes this new technology will make treatment more efficient and effective.

"We modified the virus so that it replicates only in the presence of an active prostate-specific antigen and, therefore, is highly specific to prostate cancer," Subbiah said. "We also tested its efficacy in a tumor model in vitro. The recombinant virus efficiently and specifically killed prostate cancer cells, while sparing normal human cells in the laboratory, but it would take time for this to move from the discovery phase to a treatment for prostate cancer patients."

Subbiah received a $113,000 concept award from the U.S. Department of Defense in order to conduct the study under a Cngressionally-directed medical research program for prostate cancer treatment. Subbiah is currently in search of more funding to continue his research.

A National Institutes of Health exploratory grant was awarded to the researchers of this study to develop the cell type-specific Newcastle disease virus for other types of cancer, including breast, pancreas, brain, prostate and multiple myeloma.

"Although the virus can potentially treat many different types of cancer, we are focusing on these five," Subbiah said.

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