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Measles Vaccine could be Key in Treating Cancer

Update Date: May 15, 2014 02:08 PM EDT
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According to researchers at Mayo Clinic, one woman was cured of her blood cancer with the help of the measles vaccine. The 50-year-old woman from Pequot Lakes, MN, Stacy Erholtz, had been battling an incurable blood cancer for years. After chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants failed to slow down the progression of her tumor, doctors enlisted her in a two-patient clinical trial and administered a massive dose of the measles vaccine. One dose of the vaccine caused her cancer to go into remission.

"My mindset was I didn't have any other options available, so why wouldn't I do it? I had to have failed all conventional treatment to do that trial. That actually happened last March," Erholtz stated according to USA Today. "It was the easiest treatment by far with very few side effects. I hope it's the future of treating cancer infusion."

The report revealed that Erholtz was given 100 billion units of the measles virus, which is enough to vaccinate 10 million people. Within five minutes of the treatment, Erholtz experienced a terrible headache. Within two hours, her symptoms included shaking, vomiting and a fever of 105 degrees. Despite the painful side effects, the tumor on Erholtz's forehead, which her family had nicknamed "Evan," started to shrink after 36 hours. Within the next few weeks, Evan and the other tumors that had spread throughout her body had vanished.

"In a proof of principle clinical trial, Mayo Clinic researchers have demonstrated that virotherapy - destroying cancer with a virus that infects and kills cancer cells but spares normal tissues - can be effective against the deadly cancer multiple myeloma," the clinic stated in its news release.

The researchers stated that the vaccine was engineered and altered to be more suitable for cancer therapy. Even though one dose was capable of treating the cancer effectively, the researchers cautioned that this form of therapy is still very new. The therapy also did not work in the other patient.

"Unless we get to the third stage of development, we are cautiously optimistic," Tanios Bekaii-Saab, a researcher at James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute in Ohio said reported by the Washington Post.

According to the lead researcher of the case, Stephen Russell, the vaccine might have worked on Erholtz because the majority of her tumors were in her bone marrow. In the other patient, the tumors were mostly in her leg muscles. He added that more research should be conducted to understand the relationship between the type of tumor and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

"What this all tells us is something we never knew before - we never knew you could do this in people. It's a very important landmark because now we know it can happen. It's a game changer. And I think it will drive a development in the field," Russell said. "No. 1, you need a really big dose and No. 2, the patient needs to not have an antibody to the virus."

The next step for the researchers is to conduct another clinical trial, which is expected to start in September.

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