Medical breakthroughs are not uncommon in Minnesota, but the Mayo Clinic might have just taken the prize for 2014’s greatest advancement. Using an extremely heavy dose of a specialized measles vaccine, doctors have put a woman’s blood cancer into complete and undeniable remission (without the assistance of any other treatment). This “proof of concept” could be the tipping point for a method of attacking cancer which has drawn speculation for more than half a century.
Stacy Erholtz of Pequot Lakes had nothing to lose and everything to gain when she elected to undergo an experimental treatment consisting of a heavy duty measles vaccine (a dose capable of inoculating 10 million people). Her “blood cancer,” also known as multiple myeloma (MM), is a condition where terminally differentiated plasma cells infiltrate bone marrow and cause tumors on skeletal and soft tissue; this form of cancer can be treated in a number of ways to slow its progress, but according to the Mayo Clinic it is rarely cured. With this backdrop, Erholtz essentially gained everything as her cancer became undetectable.
Although ‘Virotherapy’ as a concept for curing cancer has been around since the 1950s, its success has been somewhat limited (especially in terms of diffused cancer that’s not concentrated in one major tumor). Although too early to tell, researchers believe that the answer might be in the sheer number of infectious units they dump into the system at once; another subject in the same experiment had lesser success with a lower dose. The key being to overwhelm the body (and cancer) with the virus before it has a chance to create the necessary antibodies to attack the new invader (yes, ironically the body is protecting the cancer in this way).
This is an immense and exciting step forward for the fields of science and medicine, but SciFi fans like myself can’t help but cringe a little with our underlying paranoia. This is totally like the beginning of I Am Legend where Virotherapy leads to vampire-zombie-mutant people! I am of course referring to the 2007 film starring Will Smith, not the book which itself blames the pandemic on war and mosquitoes.
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