Science Sunday #16

Science Sunday #16

The biggest news in cancer immunotherapy this week is the use of the measles vaccine to treat cancer!  Nearly every major news source has covered this story, but here is a link from the Washington Post.

This treatment sounds extremely exciting; however, it was only given to two patients in this small clinical trial, and only worked in one.  The article does a great job of explaining how the treatment works:

[Viruses] bind to tumors and use them as hosts to replicate their own genetic material; the cancer cells eventually explode and release the virus. Antiviral vaccines that have been rendered safe can produce the same effects and can also be modified to carry radioactive molecules to help destroy cancer cells without causing widespread damage to healthy cells around the tumors. The body’s immune system then attacks any remaining cancer that carries remnants of the vaccine’s genetic imprint.

Interestingly, and unfortunately also a possible reason that this treatment will not work in a high percentage of cancer patients, is that patients cannot have antibodies against the virus, or it will be destroyed before it is able to enter cells.  This includes people who have been vaccinate d with the measles virus previously- which is nearly everyone in the country.  But, cancer as well as conventional therapies weaken the immune system, meaning that some of the patients may not be producing antibodies against the virus when it would come time for them to receive this treatment.

Like with any new cancer therapy, the right mindset to be in is cautiously optimistic.  Many treatments “die” (for lack of a better term) once the trial is scaled up to include more patients.  This means that although the treatment may work in some patients, it needs to work in a large number in order to become FDA approved for wider use.  It’ll be interesting in the months and years to come to see where this treatment gets!

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