In what could be a miraculous medical breakthrough, genetic engineers have developed an unexpected way to treat cancer. Duke University molecular engineer Matthias Gromeier has combined strains of the poliovirus with the common cold virus to help sniff out cancer cells and allow the body’s immune system to destroy them. If successful, the therapy promises to be a radical new way to treat aggressive forms of cancer. Philadelphia caregivers discuss this development and what it may mean for the future of cancer treatment.
Glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive form of cancer affecting the brain and spine. Like other cancer cells, it creates a protective veneer around the cell to mask it from the body’s immune system. Dr. Gromeier modified the poliovirus to destroy the covering on the cancer cells, allowing the immune system to detect and destroy them. The modified poliovirus cannot replicate in healthy body cells but can replicate in cancer cells. After the poliovirus begins to destroy the cancer cells, the immune system finishes the job.
In one case, a 21-year-old female was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor. After doctors removed nearly the entire tumor, the cancer returned within a year. The woman then agreed to become the first volunteer for the experimental treatment with the poliovirus. Within 2 years, the tumor disappeared. A follow-up MRI found no live cancer cells, and she is currently cancer free.
Because of the success of the experimental cancer treatment, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed the treatment on its newly created breakthrough therapy designation. To be given this status, the drug in question must be used to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition. In addition, the therapy must show substantial treatment effects. When the status is granted the drug will be given priority status in the approval process. The FDA created this new status in 2012, and to date they have given breakthrough status to approximately 40 drugs.
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