Scientists Use Polio To Attack Brain Tumors

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polio glioblastoma

June 2018 and scientists have successfully used Polio to increase life expectancy in brain tumor patients. Researchers publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine trailed the new technique, which takes advantage of the disease's 'cytotoxic effect,' in patients with recurrent glioblastoma. And with patients surviving longer, these findings may signal in new therapeutic directions.

Polio attacks tumors

The study compared the treatment of 61 patients with 104 control subjects, administering increasing doses of recombinant poliovirus (PVSRIPO) into the tumors themselves. Patient tissue samples were assessed for myriad signs of toxicity, and the patients themselves were monitored for adverse effects and relative survival. 

All in all, the study revealed that 21% of the test group survived beyond 36 months, compared with just 4% in those untreated. Even better, this same 21% were still alive at five years. The researchers also found no significant evidence of toxicity in tissue samples collected from the patients.

However, the team did note some adverse effects. Up to 20% experienced symptoms including headaches, seizures, and hemiparesis, with other rarer symptoms including fatigue and nausea. Three patients died during treatment, but two of the cases were attributed to other causes. The one remaining patient may have died due to the natural progression of their disease, but the nature of the experiment the role of PVSRIPO may have played a role and could not be ruled out. 

Polio and Cancer

Polio was once hailed as a global killer. But since worldwide vaccination efforts have eradicated 99% of the disease, it only remains endemic in three countries. The virus itself can cause neurological damage through infecting the brain and spinal cord, leading to paralysis and even death. But within its nature, the virus has presented an opportunity for treating cancer.

By utilising the viruses 'cytotoxic' effects, doctors can direct the patients own immune system toward mounting an inflammatory response toward the cancerous tissue. And by introducing the virus directly into the tumor, are able to control where and how it operates.

A global killer becomes a savior

Although this study requires further work (as the researchers admit,) to elucidate concerns around safety and efficacy, its early results are promising. The use of oncolytic viruses to attack cancer is relatively new and provides new directions in treatment. This new study was able to demonstrate a relatively safe method of attacking tumors, with no evidence of viral disease.

Utilising what was once a global killer in fighting another is perhaps within the realms once considered fantastical, but this direction may save lives.

The opinions expressed above reflect those of Dr. Janaway alone and not necessarily the ACHS or its affiliates. All data used to up to date at the time of publication. If you have health concerns, please see your primary healthcare provider.