Duke University has conducted an experiment that uses the polio virus to fight brain cancer.
Polio is a potentially-fatal virus known to cause paralysis. It most notably afflicted President Franklin Roosevelt during his time in office. Duke’s study hoped to use the virus’ debilitating properties to help fight cancer instead of harming its host.
Human cancers develop a shield or shroud of protective measures that make them invisible to the immune system. This is precisely why researchers try to reverse with the polio virus. By infecting the tumor, researchers are actually removing this protective shield and enabling the immune system to come in and attack.
The experimental treatment was the brainchild of molecular biologist Matthias Gromeier. By removing a certain genetic sequence and replacing it with material from the common cold virus, the polio would not be able to cause the incapacitating symptoms that once afflicted President Roosevelt because it would be unable to reproduce in normal cells.
However, the altered version of polio could still reproduce in cancer cells, therefore making the cancer perceptible to patients’ immune systems.
Although the altered polio virus initiates the fight against the cancer cells, it is able to alert the immune system to the trouble and finish off the virus.
One of the patients in the study was diagnosed with a glioblastoma tumor the size of a tennis ball in 2011 and told that she had months to live. She had 9% of the tumor removed, than in 2012, the doctors told her the cancer had come back. At that point the patient became the first volunterr for Duke University’s experiment with the polio virus. After three years, a medical imaging test could not find any active cancer cells.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted the therapy “breakthrough” status, in hopes of making it more widely available in less time.