A group of researchers at Vienna University have said they are trying to develop an existing influenza vaccine so that it will be effective against lung cancer.
Experiments with mice have already yielded first successes, but much more research was still needed before the new therapy could be used on humans, said a university statement Tuesday.
"In fact it's a paradox," said research scientist Christian Kittel at the Institute of Applied Microbiology.
"Influenza viruses normally cause flu in human beings, and thereby an extremely dangerous illness, which for some patients even ends fatally."
"But now we want to treat an even more dangerous illness, lung cancer, with them," he said.
The researchers explained that the human immune system usually stands no chance against cancer, as it cannot distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells.
But now they had succeeded in altering an existing influenza vaccine so that it acted on the immune system like a sparkplug, giving it a kick-start. Then the system becomes so highly sensitised that it could recognise cancer cells and destroy them, scientists explained.
The existing vaccine was attenuated - a toned-down influenza virus, which could not cause the disease itself but still infected the lungs.
The researchers had developed the virus further so that it now also contained the building plan for production of the immune "messenger" Interleukin-2. This material had already previously been gene-technically manufactured and tested.
"But it was administered to the patients systematically (by infection) and in high dosages. That did in fact have an effect, but also strong side-effects."
This problem would be avoided by using the influenza viruses as conveyances. The virus-infected cells of the lungs would then produce and release the Interleukin-2 just where it was needed.
The substance would activate the pulmonary immune system to such an extent that it could recognise and fight the cancer.