COULD THE KILLER AND CRIPPLER POLIO BE THE NEXT EFFECTIVE TREATMENT FOR CANCER? "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
"60 Minutes" Follows Cancer Patients at Duke University in the First Clinical Trial,
Two of Whom Now Show No Signs of Cancer
Like many original ideas, Matthias Gromeier's notion that polio might kill cancer tumors was met with disdain. But two decades later, the use of the virus known for crippling and killing millions is showing promise against one of the most virulent forms of cancer - glioblastoma brain tumors. Two patients Scott Pelley meets in the first clinical trial for the treatment have been declared cancer-free by doctors. Pelley's report, in which 60 MINUTES cameras spent 10 months capturing patients receiving the therapy and learning of its effects, will be broadcast on Sunday, March 29 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"I got a range of responses, from crazy to you're lying... most people just thought it was too dangerous," says Gromeier, a molecular biologist, when he started pushing his idea to attack tumors with the polio virus. One of those naysayers was Dr. Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist who is the deputy director of the Brain Tumor Center at Duke University.
"I thought he was nuts," Friedman tells Pelley. "I really thought he was using a weapon that produced paralysis." That was 15 years ago. Today, after research, animal trials and now this human clinical trial, he is more than optimistic. "This, to me, is the most promising therapy I have seen in my career, period." Friedman has been researching a cure for glioblastoma for more than 30 years.
Gromeier's research yielded a genetically modified polio virus that could be used safely in animals and now, it seems, in humans. He explains how it works. "All human cancers, they develop... protective measures that make them invisible to the immune system and this is precisely what we try to reverse with our virus," he says. "We are actually removing this protective shield... enabling the immune system to come in and attack."
60 MINUTES cameras spent nearly a year chronicling the ups and downs of this bold experiment. As the researchers struggled to determine how the virus would behave, their hard decisions sometimes led to tragic consequences for participating patients. Eleven of the 22 participants in the experiment succumbed to their diseases.
Now, doctors believe the re-engineered polio virus starts killing the tumor, but that the body's own immune system does the real killing. And in two patients suffering from glioblastoma, a notoriously fast growing and lethal form of brain cancer, doctors cannot detect cancer three years after they received the polio virus therapy.
But are they cured? Dr. Fritz Andersen, a retired cardiologist was one of those patients. "I feel it's a cure and I live my life that way," he tells Pelley. Another patient Pelley meets, Stephanie Lipscomb, was 20 when she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma. She also has been declared cancer-free after one dose of the medicine three years ago. Watch an excerpt.