So scientists cured a woman of a pervasive, treatment resistant multiple myeloma.
With a genetically modified, vaccine strain measles virus.
The media is going nuts over this, but this is not a new idea/approach. Measles, and certain other viruses, can be domesticated and modified to kill cancers– we call them oncolytic viruses.
Sometimes we straight-up genetically modify viruses for the explicit purpose of attacking a cancer. We have done this with Newcastle virus vs prostate cancer, Cowpox virus vs liver cancer, Herpes simplex virus vs breast & ovarian cancer, lots of different viruses vs lots of different cancers.
This is absolutely *the* future of cancer treatment– we are only going to keep getting better at this.
This particular case, however, was a little different. I actually mentioned this back in 2011— With measles, we didnt have to do much genetic modification. Measles ability to kill cancers evolved naturally in the laboratory. If you grow measles a long time in the lab, in cell lines (which are ‘like cancer’, kinda), theyll adapt to that ‘cancer’ environment. They will *need* something from tumor cells to replicate. Like, a protein that is over-expressed in cancer cells, but not normally found in healthy cells (I am not sure about the particular measles virus used in this particular study).
In this study, they had a measles vaccine strain virus, that had been ‘addicted’ to HeLa cells. It doesnt want ‘normal’ cells anymore. It wants yummy yummy tumors. And through its natural life-cycle, measles blows those tumors up. YAY!
Where does the GMO come in?
The virus could already do what researchers wanted, no need to genetically modify it to infect/kill the cancer. But to make it easy to track where the heck the virus was going after it was injected into patients, researchers genetically modified it to express human thyroidal sodium iodide symporter. This means any cells the viruses infected would also take up radioactive iodine, so researchers could track the virus in patients using SPECT/CT.
Also important: The two patients in this study had no anti-measles antibodies. We have all gotten two doses of the MMR vaccine (unless we have medical issues or our parents hate us). So, our immune system would fight the tumor-killing measles virus before it had a chance to kill the tumors. They do not elaborate in this paper, but Im assuming that since these women were born before the anti-vax fad, they likely got the measles vaccine, but their immune system ‘forgot’— because when researchers looked for anti-measles immunity in these two patients… there wasnt any.
SO! The idea is–
- People with untreatable cancers
- Virus that love to eat cancers
- Inject people with untreatable cancers with viruses that love to eat cancer
- Patients wont *immediately* fight off the helper viruses
- Viruses kill cancer
- Viruses eventually run out of food
- Patients immune system kills remaining viruses
- No more cancer
Did it work?
Researchers treated two patients. One patient did not totally clear their tumors. One did.
From here, scientists can understand why it worked in one patient/not the other, to improve the treatment in the future.
It is a wonderful, firm, strong, starting point.
USA Today had this quote from the patient:
“It was the easiest treatment by far with very few side effects. I hope it’s the future of treating cancer infusion.”
The infusion time of 60 minutes included a brief interruption for severe headache that responded to diphenylhydramine and acetaminophen. Two hours later, the patient became febrile (temperature, 40.5°C), tachycardic (maximum heart rate, 175 beats/min), and hypotensive (minimum blood pressure, 73/33 mm Hg) with severe nausea and vomiting that responded to acetaminophen, meperidine, metoclopramide, lorazepam, and a cooling blanket. Fever recurred over the next few days, and a superficial venous thrombosis extending from the wrist to the upper humerus was detected.
That is not a walk in the park. Actually, thats insane. 105 F fever, insanely high heart rate, insanely low blood pressure… shit… and yet she said compared to the other things shes been though, it was ‘easy’.
I hope this is the future of treating cancer, too.