According to scientists, modified strains of the common disease can be injected into the bloodstream without posing a risk to healthy cells. The study says that the modified form of the common flu virus has been reprogrammed to hunt down and attack pancreatic cancer tumours but leave healthy cells unharmed.
Lead author of the study Dr Stella Man from Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University London (QMUL) said that the new virus specifically infects and kills pancreatic cancer cells, causing few side effects in nearby healthy tissue.
The team say that the advance could become a promising treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.
Dr Man added: “If we manage to confirm these results in human clinical trials, then this may become a promising new treatment for pancreatic cancer patients, and could be combined with existing chemotherapy drugs to kill persevering cancer cells.”
However, independent experts are still skeptical and warned that the findings, which only looked at mice, would need to be replicated in humans but said it was exciting to see viruses could be reprogrammed to selectively kill tumour cells in this way.
Pancreatic cancers tend to be buried within a hard-to-penetrate “stroma” layer, resembling tough scar tissue which makes delivery of treatments more difficult. However, the paper suggested there was some ability for the virus to infect and infiltrate the stroma and reach the major tumour cells.
In 2015, researchers at Royal Marsden Hospitals provided “world first” confirmation that a modified form of the cold sore-causing herpes virus could improve survival of patients with skin cancers.
A study earlier this month showed viruses can be tailored to attack brain tumours, which are hard to reach with other treatments and drugs.