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Polio-Based Brain Cancer Treatment

A genetically modified poliovirus appears promising as a treatment for brain cancer, NPR reports.

A team of Duke University-led researchers enrolled 61 patients with grade IV malignant glioma — for which there is no current effective therapy — into their study, as they reported in the New England Journal of Medicine yesterday. They gave patients different doses of a recombinant nonpathogenic polio–rhinovirus chimera (PVSRIPO). The researchers removed the poliovirus' gene from that made it infectious, swapping it out for one from the common cold-causing rhinovirus, NPR notes. In that way, PVSRIPO would still recognize the poliovirus receptor CD155 that is widely expressed by solid tumor cells, but not cause disease. As they reported in their paper, the researchers found that patients who received the therapy had higher-than-expected survival rates than expected based on historical data. Two patients, NPR adds, have survived more than six years.

"I've been doing this for 50 years and I've never seen results like this," senior author Darell Bigner from the Duke Cancer Institute tells NPR.

Still, he and his colleagues note in their paper that overall survival reached a plateau at 21 percent, with that amount surviving at 24 months and at 36 months.