May 22, 2014 1:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


A massive dose of the measles virus has put a woman’s blood cancer into remission.

In a clinical trial, researchers at Mayo Clinic administered a multiple myeloma patient with enough virus to inoculate 10 million people. After battling cancer for 10 years, the patient, Stacy Erholtz, is currently cancer-free.

"My mindset was I didn't have any other options available, so why wouldn't I do it? It was the easiest treatment by far with very few side effects. I hope it's the future of treating cancer infusion,” Erholtz said, according to USA Today.

"The idea here is that a virus can be trained to specifically damage a cancer and to leave other tissues in the body unharmed," the lead study author, Stephen Russell, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic hematologist, explained to CNN.

What Is Virotherapy?

“For 10 to 15 years we’ve known that viruses kill cancer cells,” says John Sweetenham, MD, a hematologist at University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute. The science of re-engineering viruses to fight cancer is known as virotherapy.

Sweetenham says some cancers are more receptive to viruses than others. In this case, the pairing of the measles virus and the cancer type were fortuitous in that the virus worked to hijack the cancer cells’ ability to reproduce, and effectively, kill the cancer.

But another patient who received the treatment did not go into remission, which leaves many questions unanswered—namely, can viruses help other cancer patients?

“We will have to wait and see if the trial is meaningful,” Sweetenham says. “I think we need two to three years before we’ll have a better understanding of how broadly applicable it is.”

Mayo Clinic is moving into phase two of its clinical trial, which means testing more patients. It hopes to seek Food & Drug Administration approval within four years, and to understand how this treatment will work for other types of cancers.

"We recently have begun to think about the idea of a single shot cure for cancer—and that's our goal with this therapy," Russell told CNN.

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