A cancer patient was injected with enough measles vaccine to inoculate 10 million people, and now she says the cancer is now gone. It doesn’t seem logical since it was just a vaccine, but doctors might be on to something.
It all started when Stacy Erholtz was out of conventional treatment options for blood cancer last June when she underwent an experimental trial at the Mayo Clinic.
The 50-year-old Pequot Lakes mother is now part of medical history.
The cancer, which had spread widely through her body, went into complete remission and was undetectable in Erholtz’s body after just one dose of the measles vaccine, which has an uncanny affinity for certain kinds of tumors.
Erholtz was one of just two subjects in the experiment and the only one to achieve complete remission. But the experiment provides the “proof of concept” that a single, massive dose of intravenous viral therapy can kill cancer by overwhelming its natural defenses, according to Dr. Stephen Russell, a professor of molecular medicine who spearheaded the research at Mayo.
“It’s a landmark,” Russell said in an interview last week. “We’ve known for a long time that we can give a virus intravenously and destroy metastatic cancer in mice. Nobody’s shown that you can do that in people before.”
However, the research, published online Wednesday in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, represents a “benchmark to strive for and improve upon,” according to an accompanying editorial by Dr. John C. Bell of the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research in Ottawa.
“Without trying to hype it too much, it is a very significant discovery,” Bell said in an interview.
The next step is a bigger trial to see if the measles blitzkrieg works in a larger number of patients — a trial that Mayo expects to launch no later than September.
Researchers have known for decades that viruses can be used to destroy cancer. They 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.