The Polio Virus that Kills Cancer

Duke University in North Carolina is on the verge of being granted “breakthrough status” by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The breakthrough is not for academics but a groundbreaking treatment of glioblastoma, the most aggressive and deadliest of brain cancers that can kill in a matter of months.

For the past year, physician/scientists at Duke’s Gromeier Laboratory have been doing clinical trials to treat brain cancer patients with an unlikey element: Polio, a virus known to cause crippling and  childhood paralysis. Western medicine has been trying to eradicate polio since the 1950s.

Naturally, the experiment has sent off alarm bells among segments of the medical profession. But, the Gromeier approach is innovative. The team has rendered the polio virus harmless by removing a key genetic sequence. Normally, this alteration would cause the polio virus to die, but scientists have replaced the sequence with a harmless snippet of cold virus. This makes the polio pathogen unable kill or cause paralysis because it can no longer infect healthy cells, only cancer tissue. Once inside the cancer cells, the new PVS-RIPO virus releases toxins that specifically target and poison the malignancy. 

“So, cancers, all human cancers, develop a shield or shroud of protective measures that make them invisible to the immune system,” explained Duke’s molecular biologist Dr. Mattias Gromeier on 60 Minutes ( “And this is precisely what we are trying to reverse with our virus. So, by infecting the tumor, we are actually removing this protective shield. And telling the—enabling the immune system to come in and attack.”

The experiments have had a series of successes. Safety studies on 39 monkeys proved the PVS-RIPO virus did not infect them with polio, and their first two human trials with 20-year-old nurse and a 70-year-old-retired cardiologist showed the glioblastoma contract and disappear without a trace over a three-year period. Both patients continue to thrive cancer-free.

Encouraged by these discoveries, the Gromeier team wants to see whether PVS-RIPO might not be not be equally successsful in treating other common cancer types such as pancreas, prostate, lung, colon and others. Future clinical trials are planned.

Though the experiments have been called everything from “crazy,” “dangerous,” and “a lie”
to a “miracle cure.” Dr. Henry Friedman, a 34-year cancer veteran and director of Duke’s Brain Tumor Center sums it up this way: “It’s the most promising therapy I’ve seen in my career, period.”


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