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Diphtheria Being Used to Kill Cancer

Diphtheria Being Used to Kill Cancer

Posted - Jul. 19, 2004 at 5:18 p.m.



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Ed Yeates ReportingHard to believe, but deadly Diphtheria, which once killed thousands of people, is now killing only cancer cells in patients with brain tumors.

Doctors at the new Huntsman Hospital today began infusing a 25-year old student with an amazing new experimental drug.

We all take Diphtheria for granted because children now routinely get their DPT vaccinations. We simply don't see it any more. But the toxin that once was made by that pandemic bacteria is a unique killer in its own right.

Randy Jensen, M.D. Ph.D., Huntsman Cancer Institute: "It basically shuts down the machinery in the cell and it's no longer able to even survive or divide."

So researchers wondered if there might be a way to use Diphtheria to kill the enemy while sparing the good guys. At a lab at the National Institutes of Health, the deadly diphtheria toxin was modified - turning it from a foe to a friend.

Randy Jensen, M.D. Ph.D.: "And by coupling this deadly toxin with a sticky molecule that sticks only to the tumor cells, we can very selectively target only the tumor tissue and spare the normal surrounding tissue."

And that's exactly what's happening to 25-year old David Holland. Radiation and chemo have failed to stop his brain tumor from growing. Now it's Diphtheria's turn, as the toxin is injected directly into his brain.

David Holland, Cancer Patient: “I thought, ‘Wow! It’s available here. Let’s do it. This is exciting.’”

Exciting because David is among a select few trying out a very experimental drug that just might kill off his enemy for good.

David Holland: “To actually be part of a study to help others that come after me. It’s just amazing. It’s another arrow on my quiver of opportunities to beat this.”

If the toxin works, David and his wife Marie say they'll travel a bit to celebrate.

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