The Big C. Cancer. It has been around since Hippocrates himself was practicing medicine, though only since 1971, when Nixon declared war on cancer, has it been so prominently in the public eye.
Way back in ancient Greece, cancer was not the killer it is today. Tumors were a small annoyance, but serious diseases like cholera and various plagues, along with a generally shorter life span, kept its potential for destruction at bay. Today cancer is the second highest cause of death in the United States, killing over half a million people every year. We humans are not known for taking this sort of thing laying down, and for the last 40 years scientists and doctors have been working toward treatment, reducing risk, and reducing the growing cancer mortality rate.
Here is where the story gets really interesting. Aside from increasing awareness, detection and discovering the causation of cancer, the search for an actual cure has lead scientists to take a look in the most unlikely of places – at other life threatening diseases.
The Mayo Clinic, the premiere medical practice headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota, has recently had a breakthrough in cancer treatment using the measles vaccine. The vaccine, which is derived from a live form of the disease itself, has had incredible success stamping out measles and is credited for preventing over one million deaths worldwide since 1999 alone.
Two cancer patients in this trial were given massive doses of the vaccine in efforts to wipe out the myeloma cancer, one that affects the white blood cells responsible for producing antibodies. One of the patients went into remission as a result of the treatment. The 50% success rate demonstrates that not all cancer treatments will work for every patient, but there is still plenty of research needed to confirm how and why the treatment worked and the team plans a much larger trial in the near future. This video from the Mayo Clinic breaks down the details of the ground breaking research.
This isn’t the first time doctors have used a virus to fight cancer. For the past decade scientists have been working with lentivirus, a cousin to HIV, to reprogram T cells to fight cancer. While the success of full remission for some of the patients involved in the trials resulted in a media flurry of “HIV Cures Cancer” headlines, the research, much like the measles vaccine research, is still very much in its infancy.
There are amazing new treatments in development and there have been considerable successes using treatments from radiation to virus manipulation, but the road to a cancer free tomorrow is a long one. Programs like those at the Mayo Clinic give cancer patient and their families hope that humans can kick cancer’s butt. So in the immortal words of Jesse Pinkman – “Yeah, Science!”