Doctors cure cancer with measles
Doctors have cured a woman with advanced blood cancer by injecting her with the measles virus, the US non-profit Mayo Clinic recently announced.
Stacy Erholtz, a 50-year-old mom from the US state of Minnesota, was losing the battle against myeloma, a blood cancer that affects bone marrow. She had been through chemotherapy and stem cell treatments, but scans still showed tumours growing all over her body.
As part of a two-patient clinical trial conducted by the US non-profit Mayo Clinic, doctors injected her with a very high dose of the measles virus. Within 36 hours of the injection, the tumours started shrinking and over the next several weeks disappeared completely. After just one dose Erholtz’s cancer went into remission and she has since been completely cleared of the disease.
The lead researcher, Dr Stephen Russell, said that they had engineered the virus to make it more suitable for cancer therapy. The treatment was only successful in one of the two patients in this proof-of-concept study, which was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings late last week.
Cancer Association of South Africa’s Head of Research Dr Carl Albrecht said this was an exciting development and that he is optimistic about how this may influence cancer treatment in the future as virotherapy is very precise and does have the toxicity of normal chemotherapy – which would minimize the side effects of treatment.
According to Albrecht researchers have been experimenting with virology as a tool against cancer for decades. The first real success was achieved about ten years ago with the development of Herceptin, an antibody that fights a certain type of breast cancer (HER2 positive).
He warns that although this is a positive development it still has to undergo extensive testing in large clinical trials, which will take a lot of time and money, before it can be considered a safe and effective form of cancer therapy.
Whether this virotherapy with the measles virus may work for other cancers too will also have to be determined by further research, Albrecht said.
An edited version of this story first appeared in the 17 May edition of The Saturday Star