A virus used in the poultry industry kills prostate cancer cells (Reuters)

A virus that kills chickens has been found to have the same effect on prostate cancer cells.

The genetically engineered virus, which is fatal to chickens but not to humans, has been found to destroy prostate cancer by researchers at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Economically, the Newcastle virus is one of the most damaging diseases in the poultry industry and although it can cause mild conjunctivitis and flu-like symptoms in humans, it poses no great health risk.

Researchers in Virginia found the virus is able to kill all sorts of prostate cancer cells, including hormone-resistant ones, meaning it is a promising treatment for humans.

Worldwide, 899,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and it is estimated that one in six men will develop prostate cancer during their lives.

Normally, patients are treated with hormone therapy or chemotherapy, both of which have side effects.

The researchers hope the Newcastle virus could help to fight the disease and lessen the side effects associated with traditional treatments.

Research development needed

Elankumaran Subbiah, one of the study authors, said: "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 tumour 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 says the virus could eventually eradicate prostate cancer through injecting it intravenously or directly into the tumour, but that further tests are now needed to develop the research.

"This potential treatment is available for immediate pre-clinical and clinical trials, but these are typically not done at the university level," he 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."