Laboratory study shows measles vaccine may offer novel approach for treating lymphoma

June 07, 2001

ROCHESTER, MINN. -- The virus strain used worldwide for more than 30 years to produce the measles vaccine may be effective for another purpose -- fighting lymphoma, a group of cancers that originate in the lymphatic system.

Scientists with Mayo Clinic's molecular medicine program have found that the measles vaccine virus caused remission of lymphoma in mice injected with human cells containing the cancer. The findings from the study are published in the June 15 issue of Blood, Journal of the American Society of Hematology.

This laboratory study is thought to be the first research conducted by any medical research institution to demonstrate the destructive effects of the measles vaccine virus on lymphoma cells. It is one of several research studies underway at Mayo Clinic to investigate the effects of the measles vaccine virus on cancer.

Adele Fielding, M.D., Ph.D., lead researcher on the newly-published Mayo Clinic study, describes the findings as an early step in potentially developing the measles vaccine virus into a treatment for patients with advanced lymphomas.

"Our research involved the use of derivatives of the Edmonston-B strain of the measles vaccine to study its effects on both aggressive and slow-growing B-cell lymphoma," says Dr. Fielding.

"We found that injecting the vaccine strain of the virus into the tumor caused remission of the large, established human B-cell lymphoma in laboratory mice with the cancer," she said. "Intravenous administration of the vaccine strain also resulted in considerable slowing of tumor progression in the mice."

"Our study therefore proves the principle that the measles vaccine virus destroys lymphoma cells," says Dr. Fielding.

A pilot study is now underway at Mayo Clinic to test the use of the live measles vaccine virus in patients diagnosed with lymphoma. "If our laboratory findings translate to patients, then our research may lead to another treatment for patients who have failed current therapies for lymphoma and have exhausted their options for fighting the disease," says Dr. Fielding.

The two main types of lymphoma include Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, each having its own patterns of growth, spread and response to treatment. This year, an estimated 63,600 Americans will be diagnosed with lymphoma and about 27,600 patients will die of the cancer. Unlike several other cancers that appear to be declining in incidence rates, lymphoma is on the increase nationally, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Chemotherapy alone or in combination with radiation therapy is the standard treatment for lymphoma. High-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplantation is the treatment used for patients who relapse after standard treatment. If proved effective, the treatment derived from the measles vaccine virus could become another treatment option for patients with relapsed lymphoma.
Contact: Mary Lawson during evenings hours at 507-284-2511.

Mayo Clinic

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