Can Measles Save Us from Cancer?

Nov. 14, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Red blood cells

Today, the words measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) sound foreign to children. But before a vaccine prevented these three viruses, three to four million American children contracted measles, a possibly serious respiratory disease that can lead to pneumonia, and 40 percent of them required hospitalization each year. The vaccine is 95 percent effective, and in 2012 only 55 cases of measles were reported in the U.S., mostly due to traveling abroad.

Now, a study has demonstrated that the measles virus might actually be a useful treatment, for cancer. It sounds strange – using one serious disease to fight off another – but scientists have found a way to direct the cell-killing powers of viruses to cancer cells. The use of viruses to destroy cancer cells, called oncolytic virotherapy, has been investigated since the 1950s. Other viruses such as herpes and pox have also been used as treatments for other diseases, but the measles virus’s potential to fight cancer is very promising.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., utilized a modified measles virus called MV-NIS. To create this version of the virus, scientists inserted a gene for the protein sodium iodide symporter. This protein helps concentrate iodine in the human thyroid. Therefore, when this genetically engineered measles virus infects tumor cells and replicates, it produces this protein that binds to and concentrates iodine.

This is important because researchers can then inject a patient with radioactive iodine, which shows up on a 3-D imaging technique called SPECT-CT. Using the images, they can observe where cancer cells are at any site in the body. The engineered virus attacks and kills tumor cells but leaves normal cells alone. This works because the virus detects a protein called CD46 on the surface of a cancer cell, then enters the cell and replicates itself, killing the cancer cell.

The first clinical trial consisted of only two myeloma patients who had exhausted all other treatment options. Each patient was injected with one ultra-high dose (the equivalent of 100 million doses of the vaccine) of MV-NIS intravenously.

The results were astounding. The number of myeloma cells in both patients dramatically declined. One patient became cancer free and has remained so, while the other patient’s life was prolonged during this late-stage cancer. Advanced myeloma affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies, and is difficult to treat so this result is unprecedented.

MV-NIS is not yet ready for widespread use, but scientists will continue to build off this newfound virotherapy. Already, they plan to experiment with using another radioactive iodine molecules to additionally attack the tumor cells, uniting virotherapy with localized radiation treatment for myeloma. Stay tuned for updates on this promising discovery.

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What’s Lurking in Your Lipstick?

Dec. 13, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

A New York woman has filed a lawsuit against a cosmetics firm claiming that a sample of lipstick applied by an employee gave her the herpes cold sore virus. Is that even possible?

She claimed that two days after she tried the sample of lipstick her lip began to swell and a physician diagnosed her with a cold sore. She stated that her goal is to force makeup companies to practice better hygiene and use disposable tubes and applicators.

Cold sores are the result of an infection with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 can be transmitted from person to person by kissing, sharing dishes, towels, razors, and other items. It is different from herpes simplex virus type 2, the main cause of genital herpes, which is spread by sexual contact.

There is no cure for a herpes infection. Once someone is infected, the virus invades nerve cells. Even after the cold sore heals, the virus remains in the nerve cells and can lie dormant for any length of time. The virus can be reactivated by exposure to the sun, fever, menstruation, emotional distress, a weakened immune system, an illness, or even space flight. As many as 90 percent of adult Americans have been exposed to HSV-1. For most people, HSV-1 infections are an embarrassing nuisance but not serious. However, HSV-1 infection of the eye is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, causing scarring of the cornea.

The woman suing could have acquired a primary HSV-1 infection from lipstick if a previous customer had an active HSV-1 infection and the lipstick was not properly disinfected or the top layer was not removed between customers. On the other hand, she may have simply reactivated a latent HSV-1 infection that she had been harboring, unrelated to the lipstick. It will be difficult to distinguish where she actually got the infection from.

Sharing makeup of any kind is not a good idea, since people can also be sharing bacteria and viruses. Imagine sharing makeup with thousands of strangers, as happens at makeup counters in stores everywhere. A survey of makeup samples revealed half were contaminated with bacteria such as staphylococcus, micrococcus, pseudomonas and E. coli. On Saturdays, when the stores are most crowded, all of the samples were contaminated with bacteria.

The best solution is to avoid makeup used publically, especially any used around the eyes, nose, or mouth. There are a few precautions that those who insist on trying makeup in stores can use to prevent infections. Don’t use lotion samples that people have put their fingers into; instead use one that can be squeezed out. Ask if individual samples are available for testing. If not, request that the surface of the makeup be cleaned with a tissue, preferably dipped in alcohol, before applying. For lipsticks, scrape off the top layer. Always use disposable applicators or cotton swabs, never communal makeup brushes.

Regardless of whether this woman received her herpes infection from lipstick, it’s important to be cautious about exposing yourself to other people’s microbes. Beware – the price of fleeting beauty may be a permanent infection.

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