Veterinary College Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Poultry Virus as Human Cancer Treatment

US - Researchers on the Blacksburg and College Park, Maryland, campuses of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine have been awarded a new grant from the National Institutes of Health to support innovative work that seeks to develop a treatment for cancer from a common avian virus.
calendar icon 13 February 2008
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Prof Subbiah (right) works with a student in his lab.

This is the second major grant awarded to Drs. Elankumaran Subbiah of Blacksburg, Virginia, assistant professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and Siba Samal of College Park, Maryland, associate dean of the college’s University of Maryland campus, for the work aiming to create a cancer therapy from genetically altered Newcastle Disease virus.

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer accounts for nearly one-quarter of all deaths in the United States, exceeded only by heart diseases. It is estimated that 1.4 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2007 alone.

The National Institutes of Health $430,000 R21 grant will allow Subbiah and Samal to build upon existing work that is focused on the use of reverse genetics to alter the Newcastle Disease virus to treat prostate cancer.

Reverse genetics is the process of generating a recombinant virus from cloned complimentary DNA or cDNA copy, said Prof Subbiah. Through the reverse genetics system, recombinant viruses can be designed to have specific properties that make them attractive as biotechnological tools, live vaccines, and cancer therapies. The change is achieved through the introduction of the desired changes in the cDNA, which are then transferred faithfully to the recombinant virus.

"This differs from the previous work in that the recombinant [Newcastle Disease virus] will be targeted against different types of proteases," said Prof Subbiah. "Different types of cancer cells secrete different types of proteases. We are tailoring the virus to match the type of protease secreted by the cancer cells." According to Prof Subbiah, the use of poultry viruses as cancer therapy poses no threat to humans and several other oncolytic viruses are currently being explored to treat cancer. However, Prof Subbiah's work is the first to alter the Newcastle disease virus through a reverse genetic system for selective protease targeting. Oncolytic virus therapy has gained much attention recently as a result of the progress in understanding virus-host interactions and because currently available chemotherapy is not entirely satisfactory for several reasons, including the possibility of an individual’s development of resistance to drugs. "We are excited about the endless possibilities that Newcastle disease virus offers to treat cancer," said Prof Subbiah.

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