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Altered Measles Vaccine Cures Cancer

May 15, 2014 01:34 PM EDT
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A woman was cleared of an advanced blood cancer after receiving a massive dose of a genetically tweaked measles vaccine, experts are reporting. This is an unprecedented result for virotherapy, and offers new hope for seemingly helpless cancer patients.

The Mayo Clinic reported on Wednesday that its researchers had facilitated a hugely successful application of virotherapy - the destruction of cancer cells with a virus genetically designed to infect cancer cells and avoid healthy cells - saving the life of one woman who had been suffering from an advanced stage of myeloma.

Myeloma, a blood cancer that affects the bone marrow, is traditionally difficult to treat if not caught early on, mainly because cancer cells in the blood stream can quickly spread to create tumors throughout the body. Bone marrow transplants and radiation therapy coupled with drug treatments are traditionally used to stave off the disease's progression, but advanced cases often do not end in remission, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, one of two advanced-stage myeloma patients treated with a massive dose of the measles vaccine (100 billion units) was completely cleared of cancer cells, successfully going into remission.

The patient, Stacy Erholtz, is a 50-year-old mom from Perquot Lakes, Minnesota, according to the Washington Post. She had not expected to survive her cancer, making it difficult for her to believe that 36 hours after being injected with enough genetically modified measles virus to inoculate 10 million people, the massive tumor on her head that her children had named "Evan" was disappearing.

Days later, Erholtz was cleared of myeloma.

According to the Mayo clinic release, the second patient treated with the same treatment was not so lucky, but even that case revealed important evidence that the treatment worked exactly as it was intended, just sometimes not quickly enough.

"This is the first study to establish the feasibility of systemic oncolytic virotherapy for disseminated cancer," said Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic hematologist and co-developer of the therapy. "These patients were not responsive to other therapies and had experienced several recurrences of their disease."

The treatment cases were detailed in a scientific study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings on May 13.

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