Grants Will Fuel UK Researchers’ Drive Toward Prostate Cancer-Killing Virus

Grants Will Fuel UK Researchers’ Drive Toward Prostate Cancer-Killing Virus
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Scientists from the Queen Mary University of London have received grants worth more than £2.5 million ($3.2 million), awarded by Prostate Cancer UK to advance prostate cancer research.

The funds, which are part of the charity’s Research Innovation Awards scheme, aim to foster innovative and ambitious research projects across the United Kingdom that seek to improve the health and well-being of men living with, or at high risk of being diagnosed, prostate cancer.

“Prostate cancer is on target to become the U.K.’s most commonly diagnosed cancer by 2030, and every year over 9,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer too late and told that it can’t be cured,” Matthew Hobbs, PhD, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said in a press release.

“That’s why we’re funding innovative research like this to benefit men diagnosed with a later stage of the disease. By funding these six hugely exciting research projects at three different London institutions we believe that London will become an even more effective hub for research that will help to tame prostate cancer,” Hobbs said.

One of the awardees, Gunnel Halldén, PhD, saw her work being funded for the second time, thanks to her focus on creating a virus capable of recognizing and killing prostate cancer cells.

The project builds on previous work, also funded by Prostate Cancer UK, in which Halldén and her research team showed the flu-like virus was able to selectively infect and eliminate prostate cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. In addition, the group showed that when injected directly into tumors together with standard chemotherapy agents, the virus not only eliminated cancer cells, but also prevented them from becoming resistant to chemotherapy, a common issue for patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Now, she is embarking on the next steps, which involve the creation of a special “protein package” to transport and deliver the virus to tumors.

“Our first study proved very successful when the virus was injected directly into cancer cells in mice and used alongside standard chemotherapy drugs. However, we wanted to find a way of delivering it via the blood, so it can reach all tumors in the body at once, instead of being injected into just one,” said Halldén.

“This has proven difficult in the past, but by ‘packaging’ the virus with special proteins to help protect it as it travels through the blood, we hope the virus can survive long enough to reach the tumors,” she added.

Besides protecting and delivering the virus, Halldén said, this special “protein package” also provides long-term protection against prostate cancer.

“We’ll also modify the virus to give it the ability to alert the patient’s immune system to prostate cancer so the patient’s own body will continue to fight the disease. Thanks to Prostate Cancer UK’s generous grants, we hope we can soon have a new treatment for men with incurable prostate cancer which will improve both the length and quality of their life,” Halldén said.

If the project is successful, the team plans to move forward and test the virus, in combination with chemotherapy, in clinical trials.

Joana holds a BSc in Biology, a MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that made up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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Joana holds a BSc in Biology, a MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that made up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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