Mayo Clinic successfully uses measles virus to treat cancer - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Mayo Clinic successfully uses measles virus to treat cancer

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Researchers at Mayo Clinic have proven that the measles virus can be used to successfully treat cancer. So far they've only seen success in one patient, but Mayo says the results could have big implications for the future.

Eleven months ago, multiple myeloma patient Stacy Erhotlz had exhausted all the traditional treatment options. "She really had disease all over the place," said Dr. Stephen Russell, a Mayo Clinic hematologist, the first author of the Clinic's paper on the breakthrough an the co-developer of the therapy. The cancer was in her bone marrow. She had five tumors throughout her body, including a large one protruding from her forehead that was so prominent, it got its own name. "Actually her children called it Evan," said Dr. Russell.

So Mayo Clinic doctors tried something they had only tried once before, a massive dose of the measles virus injected in a vein in her arm over the course of an hour. The dose was large enough to vaccinate about 10 million people.

What happened next was groundbreaking. "Within 36 hours, Evan started to shrink, and by about a week, I was convinced that Evan was shrinking," Dr. Russell said.

Not only was that tumor disappearing, but all of Stacy Erholtz's tests were improving steadily. "By seven weeks, we couldn't find any cancer in her body," said Dr. Russell.

Scientists had known for a while that the concept can work in mice, but a real result had never been seen in humans. "Nobody knew until Stacy Erholtz that it was possible to control disseminated cancer in this way in a patient," said Dr. Russell.

Dr. Russell says it happens because the measles virus attacks cancer cells, essentially destroying them while leaving regular cells alone.
  
Even though Erholtz is only one person, Dr. Russell is convinced that she is the start of something big. "It proves that it's possible, you know," he said. "It's a call to action."

And where will that action take us? Dr. Russell has an idea. "I think ultimately it would be a single shot cure," Dr. Russell said. "That would avoid the need for surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy,  you know, the other modalities we currently use."

He says he know his dream is a stretch, but what can you accomplish without a dream? "I think that's what we should aim for," Dr. Russell said.

Dr. Russell says the next step will be a phase two clinical trial so researchers can see how well and how often this works in other multiple myeloma patients. They are also testing to see if it will work on other types of cancer.

As for Erholtz, Dr. Russell said the tumor on her forehead, known has Evan, did return after nine months, but no other traces of cancer were found. Doctors were able to treat that tumor with radiotherapy, and Erholtz is currently in remission.

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