Scientists have found a surprising and unlikely ally in the latest battle in the fight against cancer. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota used measles, the childhood illness that has been more or less wiped out in the modern world, with incredible results. A woman was injected with the virus and her cancerous tumours disappeared.
50 year-old Stacy Erholtz was injected with a huge amount of measles, enough to vaccine 10 million people and was declared to be in remission from her blood cancer. She was one of two people who received the measles injection, and was given the virus after tests on mice proved to be successful. There are now plans to extend the trial, with a larger sample group, to be carried out in September.
Ms Erholtz, a Minnesota resident, had suffered from myeloma, a blood cancer that affects bone marrow, for years, and had undergone two stem cell transplants and chemotherapy, all of which were unsuccessful in reducing or keeping the cancer at bay. Her body was so riddled with the disease that she even had a tumour growing on her head. After she received the injection she became very unwell, suffering from a splitting headache; her temperate also soared to 105 degrees and she started to vomit and shake uncontrollably.
However, after only 36 hours the tumour on head began to shrink and in the following weeks the cancer that had invaded her body started to disappear.
The professor who carried out the treatment, Dr. Stephen Russell, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he considered the trial to be a success: “We have a virus that can do that selectively to a tumour without at the same time causing damage to normal tissues in the body,” he added: “We’ve known for a long time that we can give a virus intravenously and destroy metastatic cancer in mice. Nobody’s shown that you can do that in people before.”
Ms Erholtz said: “It was the easiest treatment by far with very few side effects. I hope it’s the future of treating cancer infusion.”
In the second trial the cancer returned after 9 months but Ms Erholtz has been clear of cancer now for 6 months. Researchers believe that the measles virus works in some people as the immune systems of certain patients is so compromised that they cannot fight it off immediately, and it is this that gives it the chance to attack any cancerous cells. Basically, when the virus enters the bloodstream it starts to quickly affect the cancer and then the immune system finally kicks in and mops up whatever is left. As Dr Russell explains: “Viruses naturally come into the body and they destroy tissue.”
The idea for the treatment came about after scientists investigated the notion of using one injection of a virus as opposed to several chemotherapy drugs. Dr Russell said: “We recently have begun to think about the idea of a single shot cure for cancer and that’s our goal with this therapy. These patients were not responsive to other therapies and had experienced several recurrences of their disease.”
Angela Dispenzieri, a Multiple Myeloma Expert who also worked on the project said: “There’s some suggestion that it may be stimulating the patient’s immune system to further recognize the cancer cells or the myeloma cells and help mop that up more effectively than otherwise.”
The findings appear in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.