The CBS News program “60 Minutes” rarely devotes more than one of the usual three segments to a single subject, but Sunday night the time for two segments was well-spent.
The subject was a treatment for brain cancer now being tested in a clinical trial at Duke University. That Duke, the site of so much groundbreaking medical research, would be the feature is not exceptional, given the university’s global reputation. But this was a big story indeed, first reported in The News & Observer in July 2013.
In this trial, Duke doctors are injecting a modified polio virus directly into deadly brain tumors. This form of cancer, called glioblastoma, is among the deadliest, and the prognosis for more than a year’s survival with conventional treatment is grim.
But at Duke, the first two patients in a phase one clinical trial are cancer-free three years after getting an infusion of the polio virus. The optimism of doctors is encouraging, and that is putting it mildly.
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Doctors by nature are cautious, particularly when they speak of treating or curing cancer, the health scourge of humankind. That’s appropriate. Medical teams do not want to proclaim a cure until a form of treatment is far beyond the early clinical trial stage. There are good reasons for that. A clinical trial is but one stage of testing, and cancer is so widespread that millions of people are praying for a cure and a reason for hope.
Duke doctors, in many fields, understand the need for caution. They’ve brought innovative treatments to many illnesses, from performing complex eye surgeries in one of the world’s best eye centers to treating cystic fibrosis and other young people’s diseases at Duke Children’s Hospital.
And in the field of cancer, the university’s center has prolonged and saved many lives.
With this new treatment for brain cancer, it may be premature to say “cure,” but it is not too soon for hope. And that is a lot.