A September 2017 article in Medical News Today reported that modified polio vaccine might help cure cancer. The two key investigators were Dr. Matthias Gromeier and Prof. Smita Nair from Duke University. Dr. Gromeier is a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery. Dr. Nair is an immunologist in the Department of Surgery. They have conducted research since 2011 using a modified polio vaccine in an attempt to cure glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma is a particularly vicious brain cancer against which conventional treatment methods like surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy are ineffective. However, preliminary data shows that immunotherapy using a modified polio vaccine is effective. As a result the researchers noted that the modified polio vaccine might help cure cancer.
The tumor-fighting virus is a recombinant oncolytic poliovirus (PVS-RIPO).
Hence Dr. Gromeier set out to investigate the mechanism of this modified poliovirus. He said that the more is known about the effectiveness of it, the better cancer patients can benefit from it.
There were various approaches to study the interaction of the modified poliovirus with cancer cells.
- First of all, research involved experiments with human cell lines of melanoma and breast cancer. They showed that the modified poliovirus attaches itself to a tumor protein (called CD155 protein). This functions like a receptor on the cancer cell surface.
- Furthermore the modified poliovirus attacks the cancer cell, releasing antigen from the cancer cell.
- Finally, two types of immune cells, the dendritic cells and macrophages, recognize the antigen as foreign. Dendritic cells present the antigen to T cells that turn into T killer cells. Macrophages remove debris and toxic substances. The T killer cells continue to attack cancer cells in a prolonged immune reaction until they have combatted the cancer.
Dr. Gromeier answered questions about what the future will bring in terms of immune therapy of cancer. He was optimistic and plans clinical trials for melanoma, breast cancer and prostate cancer. He further indicated that this could include novel combination therapies that he intends to pursue.
Conventional cancer therapies have reached a limit of what they can do. Immunotherapy is a new treatment modality that can be combined with existing cancer treatment methods. Modified poliovirus treatment is a new immunotherapy, and further research is now on the way. It has been shown to be effective for glioblastoma. But it has also effects against melanoma, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Further clinical trials are continuing.