Doctors are using the polio virus to fight deadly brain tumors

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WJAR) — The prognosis for people with brain tumors called glioblastomas is generally not good — about a two-ear survival rate on average.

Now doctors are finding some limited success using the polio virus to fight the deadly brain tumors.

Dr. Steven Toms removes brain tumors at Rhode Island Hospital.

"No matter what I do there's always some of the tumor left behind," Toms said. "Even when the MRI looks perfect, there are many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tumor cells left behind."

That puts Dr. Alexander Mohler, who treats those tumors, at a disadvantage.

"Glioblastomas are very-difficult-to-treat tumors," Mohler said.

Chemotherapy and radiation have helped. But new research out of Duke University suggests the polio virus, combined with the common cold virus, may help prolong life in some patients.

"Basically, they put a tube in the tumor and administer the drug," said Mohler.

"What we're trying to do here is to hijack the body's own immune system," said Toms. "Just about all of us have had our polio virus vaccines."

And all of us have been exposed to the cold virus.

"So what the Duke program is trying to do is to hijack the ability of the body to recognize some of the proteins out of the polio virus and the rhino virus to kind of light a fire under our immune system and say, 'Hey guys, come here, let's attack the glioblastoma cells.'"

This was a small study — 61 patients. One out of five patients had prolonged survival rates. But it's only one tool. Another is something called tumor treatment field therapy.

In this type of therapy, the patient wears a device that interferes electrodes with cancer cells when they're trying to divide and spread.

"i personally have a couple of patients who are beyond eight years right now with that treatment, with no sign of disease," said Toms.

Other treatments for glioblastomas include immunotherapy and a vaccine that could be FDA-approved within the next year.