MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) Decades ago, the polio virus was responsible for a large number of deaths around the world, but now it's being used as the newest cancer breakthrough.
Doctors at Duke University have modified the virus so when it's instilled into the area of a brain tumor, the body's immune system starts to attack the cancer. The virus used has been manipulated to prevent the patient from getting polio, and it is the immune system itself that kills the cancer, not the virus.
Some patients like Stephanie Lipscomb of South Carolina, who's been cancer free for four years after suffering from glioblastoma, consider the treatment to have cured them of a cancer that most do not survive more than a year after diagnosis.
Recently, Duke’s medical researchers were awarded “breakthrough therapy” status by the Food and Drug Administration for their findings and this has allowed the opportunity for other hospitals to begin to recommend patients to Duke for the treatment. Now, the UP Health System has partnered with Duke University and they are working together to discover ways the treatment can help cancer patients in the Upper Peninsula.
"We will be working with them to identify our patients who we think would be good candidates,” said Dr. Philip Lowry, physician and Clinical Director of the cancer program at UP Health Systems Marquette. “I've already had a couple of conversations with them about people who we might want to send down to their team in North Carolina to be more formally evaluated and possibly get some of this breakthrough treatment."
Doctors at UP Health Systems already have patients in mind, and even referred a patient last week to be evaluated. This partnership not only allows patients to possibly receive the breakthrough polio treatment, but it also will keep UP Health Systems informed on all of the latest developments.
Dr. Lowry said that the partnership also gives them the option to start exploring how UP Health Systems could do clinical trials at their own hospitals in the future. As of now, the treatment is only administered to patients with glioblastoma, but the medical researchers hope to expand to other cancers eventually.
Though doctors are optimistic and eager to have patients experience the treatment, they're not naive to the fact that cancer is a difficult disease to eradicate. Of the 22 patients that have undergone the treatment so far, 11 have died. However, the bit of hope it has been able to give terminal patients experiencing this incredibly aggressive form of brain cancer has been unprecedented.
"When you have a diagnosis that's considered to be a death sentence, and you're told that you have 14 or 18 months to live, an extra 6 months is quite significant and any time after that is quite miraculous,” said Dr. Sonia Geschwindt, Neurological Surgeon at UP Health Systems Marquette. “It is hope, maybe not a cure for everyone, but it is hope that we may one day be able to beat this cancer."
In order to receive the treatment, patients must also fall under certain criteria and it is only available to those who have already completed all standard of care treatments which include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. If you believe that you or someone you know could benefit from this groundbreaking treatment, Dr. Geschwindt encourages those to reach out to her to begin the necessary steps toward a referral at 906-225-4575.