Sep 23, 2018 | Updated: 04:34 PM EDT

Could Polio Cure Brain Cancer?

Mar 31, 2015 06:04 PM EDT

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Could the cure from brain cancer rest in the hands of polio? Scientists from Duke University believe it could be. They have re-engineered the polio virus and actually adapted it to cure brain cancer, with hopes that it could further be modified to even cure other types of cancers, as well.

Polio used to be an epidemic in the U.S. and other parts of the western hemisphere in the early 40s and 50s. But following an aggressive vaccination campaign, polio is now a disease left in history. However, scientists continue to research and modify the virus for future application to other diseases.

Targeting cancer cells with genetically engineered viruses is not a new concept and has already been proven effective in many clinical tests, but the practice has yet to be approved by the FDA.

The polio virus created by researchers with Duke University, known as the PVS-RIPO, was injected directly into brain tumors in both humans and other primates as part of a clinical trial. The results were promising, showing that the virus was capable of seeking out and destroying the cancer cells--shrinking the tumors while leaving the surrounding healthy cells untouched.

According to Dr. Gromeier, a professor of neurosurgery, molecular genetics, and microbiology at Duke, "Accomplishing this is very difficult scientifically and only very few viruses are suitable as cancer-fighting agents in the clinic. We achieved this feat by genetic engineering to remove polio virus' inherent disease-causing ability. " Dr. Gromeier has been working on the polio-virus project for 25 years.

The success of the clinical trials, however, only included five human patients with deadly brain tumors. But with the successes, researchers believe that they will receive approval from the FDA to continue the trials with even more patients and expand the study to include other cancers, as well.

"So cancers, all human cancers, they develop a shield or shroud of protective measures that make them invisible to the immune system," Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a professor of neurosurgery, molecular genetics, and microbiology at Duke, said. "And this is precisely what we try to reverse with our virus. So by infecting the tumor, we are actually removing this protective shield. And telling the- enabling the immune system to come in and attack."

Since PVS-RIPO has proven effective in fighting most types of cancer cells, researchers hope that they can begin to study the effects it can have in treating prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, as well.

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