Cancer: Glimmer of Hope for Glioblastomas

September 17, 2013

The standard treatment for glioblastoma, the most common, aggressive, and typically fatal type of brain cancer, is surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Yet employing the grueling trio rarely brings success; tumors recur in 95 percent of cases, nearly half within eight weeks of treatment.

A research trial under way at Duke Medical Center could offer a less arduous path. Researchers are using a modified version of the Sabin 1 virus strain, developed in the 1950s as a vaccine against polio, to cure people with cancerous brain tumors by injecting it into their brains. The early signs are promising: Of the seven patients treated in the study so far, three have experienced dramatic shrinkage in their tumors, two failed to improve, and for two others, it’s too early to tell.

It’s not clear how the poliovirus works against cancer cells yet, but Matthias Gromeier, a polio virologist at Duke who developed the therapy, thinks immune defenses are triggered when the tumor is infected because of vaccinations against polio. Introducing the poliovirus causes those defenses to respond and turn against the tumor.

Gromeier says the modified virus has been tested in both primates and humans over the past decade, and no toxic side effects have been observed.