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Mayo Researchers Fight Mesothelioma with Measles Virus

The same virus that can make unvaccinated children come down with spots and fevers may provide the basis for a powerful new weapon against the intractable cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma.

New research being conducted at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic suggests that a strain of the measles virus called MV-Edm (the Edmonston strain) has the unique ability to not only target and kill lab-grown malignant mesothelioma cells, but to also spare normal cells, reducing the risk of treatment-related side effects.

How MV-Edm Targets Mesothelioma Cells

The ability of a therapy to selectively target cancer cells is the hallmark of a promising mesothelioma treatment. Current therapies, including the gold standard chemotherapy combination of pemetrexed and cisplatin, can cause serious – even life threatening – side effects.

But researchers noted that the MV-Edm measles virus strain is especially attracted to a protein called CD46 (cluster of differentiation 46). This cell surface protein is produced in significantly higher amounts by mesothelioma cells than by healthy cells, which effectively “invites” more of the destructive virus cells into mesothelioma tumors.

Once inside the cell, the measles virus replicates itself, eventually killing the cell and releasing more viruses to infect more cells. The result of the process is a continual destruction of mesothelioma cells.

“MV-Edm treatment of mesothelioma reduced cell viability and also invoked apoptotic cell death,” reports lead study author, Blake A. Jacobson, PhD.

Enhancing the Cancer Killing Effect of the Measles Virus

Using four different mesothelioma cells lines for their experiments, the research team showed that, when more of certain proteins are present, the potency of the destructive measles virus is enhanced.

The team was able to trigger the death of more mesothelioma cells by artificially forcing the expression of certain key proteins. Likewise, when these proteins were repressed, the effectiveness of the measles-based treatment decreased.

Writing in the journal Oncotarget, the team concludes that the measles-based vaccine is deserving of further study as a mesothelioma treatment.

Patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma are currently being recruited for a clinical trial of the measles vaccine treatment at the Mayo Clinic in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute.

More information on the clinical trial can be found at clinicaltrials.gov using the identified NCT01503177.


Jacobson, BA, et al, Cap-dependent translational control of oncolytic measles virus infection in malignant mesothelioma”, June 27, 2017, Oncotarget, Epub ahead of print

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