(CBS) - The vaccine routinely used to prevent measles may hold promise for treating a common, and frequently deadly, type of blood cancer, according to new research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The vaccine was tested against late-stage incurable myeloma, a type of blood cancer that grows in the plasma cells of bone marrow, and doctors say it completely eliminated a patient's widespread tumors.
This use for the vaccine was not discovered accidentally. Years ago, the scientists observed several pathological characteristics of myeloma that complement the life cycle of the measles vaccine. To treat myeloma patients, the researchers engineered the measles vaccine into one large dose, which was given to patients intravenously.
"It's a huge milestone in that regard," Dr. Steven Russell a hematologist at the Mayo Clinic and lead researcher, told USA Today. "We have known for some time viruses act like a vaccine. If you inject a virus into a tumor you can provoke the immune system to destroy that cancer and other cancers. This is different, it puts the virus into bloodstream, it infects and destroys the cancer, debulks it, and then the immune system can come and mop up the residue."
The researchers tested the treatment on two myeloma patients. In one patient, doctors observed changes in blood levels within a minute after administering the vaccine infusion.
Next Russell and his team at the Mayo Clinic plan to move to test the experimental treatment in a phase 2 clinical trial on a larger number of patients. Additionally, they told USA Today that the vaccine may be effective for the treatment of ovarian, brain, head and neck cancers, as well as mesothelioma.
Myeloma is the second most common blood cancer in the U.S. The National Cancer Institute estimates there were 24,050 new cases of myeloma in 2014, and approximately 11,090 deaths due to the disease. This type of cancer has a 45 percent five-year survival rate. When myeloma cells collect in marrow they may damage the bone. Eventually cancer cells will spread to other bones in the body, which is called multiple myeloma.
In 1978, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched their first campaign to eradicate measles in the U.S. by 1982. However, the virus still remains a scourge worldwide and is one of the leading causes of death in children overseas, due to lack of access to preventive care. In 2012, there were 122,000 measles deaths in the world, which adds up to approximately 330 deaths every day, according to a report from the World Health Organization.
The measles vaccine nearly eliminated the disease from this country by 2000, but in recent years there's been an increase in U.S. cases. The CDC reports 187 cases of measles around the country so far this year, including an outbreak that made 68 people ill in Ohio.