Avian Virus May Be Harmful to Cancer Cells

While this sounds like an April Fool's post, it's real. Newcastle disease, a poultry virus, is relatively harmless to humans, but attacks prostrate cancer cells. A genetically engineered version is under development as a treatment.

A study at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has identified a chicken-killing virus as a promising treatment for prostate cancer in humans. Researchers have discovered that a genetically engineered Newcastle disease virus, which harms chickens but not humans, kills prostate cancer cells of all kinds, including hormone-resistant cancer cells.

Newcastle disease virus affects domestic and wild bird species, especially chickens, and is one of the most economically important viruses to the poultry industry. Although it can cause mild conjunctivitis and flu-like symptoms in humans who have been in close contact with infected birds, it does not pose a threat to human health.

Scientists first documented the cancer-fighting properties of Newcastle disease virus in the 1950s, but it is only with recent advances in reverse genetics technology that they have turned to the genetically engineered virus as a possible treatment.

"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. We also tested its efficacy in a tumor model in vitro," Subbiah said. "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."

Earlier human clinical trials for other types of cancer with naturally occurring strains of Newcastle disease virus required several injections of the virus in large quantities for success. Subbiah believes that the recombinant virus would be able to eradicate prostate cancer in much lower doses. [emphasis mine]

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