60 MINUTES Airs Broadcast of USC Upstate Graduate Who Participated in the First Clinical Trial at Duke University She Now Show no Sign of Cancer
Stephanie Lipscomb ’14 battled aggressive brain cancer not once, but twice, as a student in the Mary Black School of Nursing at the University of South Carolina Upstate. 60 MINUTES chronicled her amazing journey from experimental treatment to being declared cancer free on Sunday, March 29. If you miss the show, watch it now.
A tennis-ball sized tumor was removed from Lipscomb’s brain in 2011 after she was diagnosed with Stage IV glioblastoma, followed by weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. In April 2012, the cancer returned just as Lipscomb faced final exams.
This courageous young woman faced her future with strength and conviction. Lipscomb entered Matthias Gromeier’s experimental clinical trial at Duke University where the genetically engineered polio virus was injected directly into her brain tumor. She became the first human to undergo this treatment, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just two week before suggested by her doctors.
“I got a range of responses, from crazy to you’re lying…most people just thought it was too dangerous,” says Gromeier, a molecular biologist, when he started pushing his idea to attack tumors with the polio virus. One of those naysayers was Dr. Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist who is the deputy director of the Brain Tumor Center at Duke University.
“I thought he was nuts,” Friedman tells 60 MINUTES Scott Pelley. “I really thought he was using a weapon that produced paralysis.” That was 15 years ago. Today, after research, animal trials and now this human clinical trial, he is more than optimistic. “This, to me, is the most promising therapy I have seen in my career, period.” Friedman has been researching a cure for glioblastoma for more than 30 years.
Gromeier’s research yielded a genetically modified polio virus that could be used safely in animals and now, it seems, in humans. He explains how it works. “All human cancers, they develop…protective measures that make them invisible to the immune system and this is precisely what we try to reverse with our virus,” he says. “We are actually removing this protective shield…enabling the immune system to come in and attack.”
60 MINUTES cameras spent nearly a year chronicling the ups and downs of this bold experiment. Their cameras spent the day with Lipscomb and her family in Spartanburg on December 16 as she participated in the Nursing Award Ceremony and the USC Upstate Graduation Ceremony – both tremendous milestones for a two-time cancer survivor.
As the researchers struggled to determine how the virus would behave, their hard decisions sometimes led to tragic consequences for participating patients. Eleven of the 22 participants in the experiment succumbed to their diseases.
Now, doctors believe the re-engineered polio virus starts killing the tumor, but that the body’s own immune system does the real killing. And in two patients suffering from glioblastoma, a notoriously fast growing and lethal form of brain cancer, doctors cannot detect cancer three years after they received the polio virus therapy.