Childhood Cancer

You are here

Targeting Pediatric Brainstem Glioma with Oncolytic Polioviruses.

Duke University Medical Center
Matthias Gromeier, MD
Grant Type: 
Innovation Grants
Year Awarded: 
Type of Childhood Cancer: 
Brain Tumors, Glioma
Project Description: 

Project Update - Breakthrough Therapy Status by the FDA,

One of ALSF’s early Innovation Grantees, Dr. Matthias Gromeier, has had his clinical trial designated as a breakthrough therapy by the FDA.  Dr. Gromeier and his team used a modified version of the polio virus  to attack glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.  Breakthrough status will allow hundreds of patients access to this treatment immediately.  His project was featured on 60 Minutes in May 2016. 

About this Project - As seen in the ALSF Fall 2013 Newsletter:

Poliovirus shows promise in treating glioblastoma

Matthias Gromeier, MD, of Duke Medical Center, was among the early “class” of research grantees from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. His grant proposal to use the poliovirus to kill cancer cells, specifically pediatric glioblastoma - an aggressive form of brain cancer, earned him an ALSF Innovation Grant back in 2006. We’re thrilled to share that early results from a clinical trial led in part by Dr. Gromeier has found that a modified version of the poliovirus is in fact proving effective in treating patients with glioblastoma. The ALSF funds supported research that contributed to making this clinical trial possible.

For Stephanie Lipscomb, the first patient enrolled in the clinical trial, the treatment has been nothing short of life altering. Stephanie was nearing the end of her freshman year in college when severe and persistent headaches prompted her family to take her to a local hospital in South Carolina to get checked out. The diagnosis they received was devastating - stage 4 glioblastoma. Stephanie had surgery to remove the tumor located behind her right eye and underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation, but was still given only 5 years to live due to the aggressive nature of the disease. Glioblastoma is the most common type of brain tumor and unfortunately, also the most lethal with a recurrence rate of nearly 95 percent.

Stephanie experienced a brief period of remission, but the cancer came back. This time, Stephanie’s treatment options were even more limited - she already received all of the radiation her body could take and chemotherapy had proven ineffective. It was then that she agreed to take part in the clinical trial led in part by Dr. Gromeier where a modified version of the poliovirus (one deemed safe with no debilitating side effects) would be injected through a catheter into her brain in an effort to shrink the tumor.

How does the virus work? Dr. Gromeier and his team continue to study the mechanism, but believe that since we’re all vaccinated against polio that when it infects the tumor, it triggers a response in our immune systems to turn against it.

Stephanie responded beautifully to the treatment and her tumor shrunk to the size of a pea. She received more great news as a recent round of scans showed no new regrowth of her tumor, 14 months after the treatment. Stephanie returned to college this fall where she was accepted into a nursing program and plans to study oncology upon graduation.

Believe it or not, the virus that is helping patients like Stephanie existed in 1996 - it took Dr. Gromeier 16 years to get it “bench to bedside”, a phrase researchers use to describe the time it takes to get a therapy from the lab, into a clinical trial and helping patients. This slow process is not unusual and further highlights the importance of steady research funding to bring novel therapies to patients quicker.

Although Dr. Gromeier stresses that additional research needs to be conducted and cautions against using the word “cure,” he is also highly optimistic about the potential impact this treatment could have on kids with glioblastoma as well as other childhood cancers.

In the News

The research described in these news stories is in part a result of funds from ALSF:

WNCN, "Duke doctors use poliovirus to save woman from cancer"

Durham News Observer: "Tests show woman's brain cancer responds to new poliovirus treatment at Duke"