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Using Polio Virus To Cure Cancer?

Why have scientists reengineered the infectious Poliovirus?

Historically, Poliovirus has been regarded as highly dangerous to the human population. The virus is characterized by its easy transmission and ability to paralyze by infecting the brain and spinal cord. By the late 1980’s, it was still infecting over 350,000 people yearly (1). Knowing this, you would think that scientists would stay as far away as possible, right? Think again.

Scientists at Duke University have engineered a Poliovirus that has the ability to target an extremely difficult to treat brain cancer known as glioblastoma. In the trial, surgeons implanted a catheter in the patients’ brain and directly infused genetically modified poliovirus into the tumor.

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In fact, 21% of the 61 patients in the long-term study have survived after three years. (2) Although this may not sound impressive, it is a huge improvement from the 4% in the control group. (2) Especially with cancer as deadly as glioblastoma, these types of survival rates are virtually unheard of.

Although the study is just now progressing in patients, results promise success over time. Researchers have stated that much more work is needed before this treatment process can be used on a large scale basis for those suffering from glioblastoma.

The first patient treated was Stephanie Hopper, a 27-year-old nursing student from Grenville, South Carolina. (3) Since receiving the treatment in 2012, she was not only able to go to college but also become a nurse. Scans from this year also confirmed that no tumor growth was occurring. In an interview with Hopper, she states “I believe wholeheartedly that it was the cure for me.” (4)

Since then, Duke has started a second study combining poliovirus with chemotherapy to boost the progress and amount of positive outcomes. (5) The study has been welcomed by the scientific community as an important breakthrough towards treating glioblastoma.


[1] “Global Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 July 2017, http://www.cdc.gov/polio/about/index.htm.

[2] Stein, Rob. “Doctors Try Genetically Modified Poliovirus As Experimental Brain Cancer Treatment.” NPR, NPR, 26 June 2018, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/26/622610333/doctors-try-genetically-modified-poliovirus-as-experimental-brain-cancer-treatme.

[3] “Poliovirus Is Used to Help Fight Deadly Brain Tumors.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 26 June 2018, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poliovirus-used-to-help-fight-deadly-brain-tumors-glioblastoma/.

[4] Park, Alice. “Polio Virus Could Help Treat Brain Cancer. Here’s How.” Time, Time, 26 June 2018, time.com/5320067/polio-virus-brain-cancer/.

[5] Marchione, Marilynn. “Doctors Try Using Poliovirus to Attack Brain Tumors.” NBC 10 Philadelphia, NBC 10 Philadelphia, 26 June 2018, http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/Genetically-Modified-Poliovirus-Attacks-Brain-Tumors-Glioblastomas-486556891.html.

Hi! My name is Sindhuja Uppuluri and I'm a junior from Austin, Texas. I'm passionate about medicine, but high school has allowed me to discover the power of scientific breakthroughs as well. Being an ISEF alum, I have had the opportunity to not only expand on my own discoveries but be exposed to an ever-expanding network of young innovators and scientists. When I’m not in a lab, you can find me at a debate tournament, working on one of many clubs at my school, or drinking copious amounts of coffee. I can’t wait to use this platform to contribute exciting and informative content to you all!

1 comment on “Using Polio Virus To Cure Cancer?

  1. Pingback: Using Polio Virus To Cure Cancer? — The Student Scientist – SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS COVENANT HOUSE

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