Researchers Fighting Brain Tumors With Modified Polio Vaccine

Researchers have found that a modified version of the polio vaccine, infused straight into aggressive brain tumors, may help some patients fight a deadly form of brain cancer. The team, from the Duke University School of Medicine, recently published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine. The team also made a presentation at the 22nd International Conference on Brain Tumor Research in Norway.

According to the National Brain Tumor Society, about 80,000 people a year are diagnosed with a brain tumor, and about 24,000 of those are malignant. Standard treatment of brain tumors includes surgery if the tumor is somewhere reachable; chemotherapy; and radiation. But if the tumor is aggressive, it’s usually fatal. The average survival rate for all malignant brain tumor patients is only 34.7 percent.

Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive malignant brain tumor in adults. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is currently fighting glioblastoma, while Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau were both killed by the cancer. About a third of all brain tumors are gliomas.

The team at Duke worked with the National Cancer Institute to design and manufacture a modified version of the polio vaccine virus for the test. Using polio viruses already weakened and altered for use in polio vaccines, the medical team genetically engineered them to carry parts of a rhinovirus. They then infused various doses into the tumors of the 61 glioma patients.

Neurologist Dr. Darell Bigner, who led the study team, said, “We inject the virus directly into brain tumors and it kills all the tumor cells it comes in contact with. The most important thing is, it sets up a secondary immune response and really destroys the distant tumor cells.” As of March of this year, eight patients had no evidence of the tumors growing any more and two had no evidence of a brain tumor at all.

In all, about 20 percent of patients with gliomas were helped and were still alive after three years. The Duke team compared their volunteers to similar past patients who did not get the treatment. All but one of those previous patients died after an average of 11 months.

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