In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 15, 2014

Going viral … to destroy cancer

By Hoyt Finnamore

Virology760While measles has been in the news of late with outbreaks popping up in places it was supposed to be largely held in check, the measles virus is now popping up in unexpected places, as well -- to amazing effect. As the Star Tribune reports, researchers at Mayo Clinic say they've proven the virus' ability to treat another medical problem: multiple myeloma.

The newspaper reports that Mayo researchers have found that, when given in extremely large doses, the measles virus essentially "treats multiple myeloma tumors as food and turns them into machines to make copies of itself." As far as scientific discoveries go, Mayo's Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D., who served as first author of the resulting research paper and co-developer of the therapy, says it's big. (Really big.) "It's a landmark," he tells the Star Tribune. "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." (Well, nobody had until now.)

The research was published earlier this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Offering an outside perspective, John C. Bell, M.D., of the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research in Ottawa tells the Strib that the findings are "a benchmark to strive for and improve upon," and notes, "Without trying to hype it too much, it is a very significant discovery."

One person who might be inclined to hype the findings would be Stacy Erholtz. The 50-year-old from Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, the Star Tribune writes, is "becoming part of modern medical history" as the patient whose experience provided a "proof of concept" for treating multiple myeloma with a high dose of the measles virus. Erholtz was all but out of "conventional treatment options" for her multiple myeloma, the newspaper reports, when she decided to take part in an "experimental trial" at Mayo Clinic in Rochester last June. Researchers then injected her with enough measles virus "to vaccinate 10 million people." Shortly after the single, high-dose injection of concentrated, attenuated virus, Erholtz's cancer went "into complete remission."

Dr. Russell tells the Star Tribune that the experimental treatment now serves as "the proof of concept" that a "single, massive dose of intravenous viral therapy can kill cancer by overwhelming its natural defenses." In a video produced for the Mayo Clinic News Network (embedded below) , Dr. Russell notes, "We recently have begun to think about the idea of a single-shot cure for cancer, and that's our goal with this therapy."

The next step, he says, will be to carry out a second, larger clinical trial to better determine whether a "measles blitzkrieg" can work for a larger number of patients -- a trial the Strib says Mayo expects to begin "no later than September."

Check out the Star Tribune's full report here and watch Mayo's video report below. Then, be sure to let us know what you think about this story and others by sharing your comments.

Tags: Cancer, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, measles, Research News, Stephen Russell

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