Mayo Clinic recently released a report detailing the remission of a patient with late stage blood cancer after she received a massive dose of the measles vaccine. This is a fascinating and complex scientific breakthrough where vaccinations for viruses are being reengineered and used to treat deadly conditions.
The inspiration for this study came from a young boy in Uganda who had a large cancerous tumor on his head. He contracted measles and the tumor went away. This caused doctors to think that, while measles attacks many things in the body, it may also attack cancer.
To fully understand this process it is important to know that a viral vaccine consists of the actual viral particle itself in a form designed to stimulate the immune system without causing a severe infection. Normally, the measles virus enters cells through receptors, which allow the virus to penetrate the cells and reproduce.
In the case of the patient in the study, some of these receptors were also present on her tumor cells. This allowed the modified virus, when given in a large dose, to enter and destroy the tumor cells it infected. Because the patient had some level of pre-existing immunity to measles, treatment with the measles vaccine was given all at once. This is because it was believed the injection would have re-activated her immune response against the virus and prevented it from entering her tumor cells.
However, it is also possible that once the measles virus penetrated the patient’s tumor cells, part of her immune system which attacks viruses, called her T cells, could have “re-awakened.” Therefore, some of the clinical benefit may have resulted from the patient’s T cells attacking her tumor.
This might also explain why it appears that all of the patient’s tumor cells were destroyed. First, the viral particles in the vaccine may have been taken in large quantities by the tumor cells which led to the destruction of the cells. Then, the remaining tumor cells may have been destroyed by the re-awakened T cells. If that is the case, then the patient’s re-awakened T cells may likely continue to guard against any new cancer cells that may arise in the future.
Because so many cells in the body have receptors for the measles virus, this type of treatment may be effective against many other kinds of cancer. The science behind this treatment will be studied intensely in the coming months, and may lead to effective treatments for many other illnesses.
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