Engineered Viruses to Kill Cancer

May 21, 20140 comments

A recent study from the Mayo Clinic has reported the first well-documented case of complete remission of disseminated cancer by oncolytic virotherapy - fighting off cancer using re-engineered viruses.

Stacy Erholtz, a 50-year-old woman had been battling myeloma, a cancer that affects bone marrow, for years. The tumours started growing all over the body and especially, a tumour growing on her forehead had been pushing on her brain by destroying a bone in the skull. Having been through chemotherapy and a couple of stem cell transplants, she had few options left. 

The clinicians at the Mayo Clinic, as part of a proof-of-principle clinical trial, injected her with 100 billion units of measles virus, which would be enough to inoculate 10 million people, had it been used as vaccine. However, the virus had been engineered appropriately for anti-cancer treatment. Erholtz experienced unbearable headache, shaking, vomiting and very high fever during and after the infusion. However, about 36-hours following infusion of virus, the tumour in forehead started shrinking and in the next few weeks it disappeared completely. Over the period of time, the other tumours in her body disappeared too and her cancer went into remission.

Regarding the mechanism of action of this anti-cancer action by the viruses, the scientists believe that the viruses use the tumours as hosts to replicate leading to killing of cancer cells in the process of releasing the viruses. Though this treatment was successful on only one of the 2 patients, it is too early to be optimistic and this study needs to be confirmed in larger randomized clinical trials.

-       Dr. Vignesh Ram

To read more on this, please click here.

Image credits: Morguefile, photography by Sullivan.
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