'60 Minutes' broadcast includes Upstate grad who survived clinical cancer trial

Published on Friday, March 27, 2015

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Stephanie Lipscomb, far right, will be in the '60 Minutes' broadcast Sunday featuring a successful clinical cancer trial she survived.

Les Duggins/USC Upstate

Stephanie Lipscomb, far right, will be in the '60 Minutes' broadcast Sunday featuring a successful clinical cancer trial she survived.


USC Upstate 

Stephanie Lipscomb 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” will chronicle Lipscomb’s amazing journey from experimental treatment to being declared cancer free on Sunday at 7 p.m. Watch an excerpt.

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.

Lipscomb courageously faced her future with strength and conviction. She entered Matthias Gromeier’s experimental clinical trial at Duke University where the genetically engineered poliovirus 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,” said Gromeier, a molecular biologist, when he started pushing his idea to attack tumors with the poliovirus.  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 told 60 Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes”. “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 poliovirus that could be used safely in animals and now, it seems, in humans.  He explained 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,” Gromeier said. “We are actually removing this protective shield . . . enabling the immune system to come in and attack.”   

The show’s cameras spent nearly a year chronicling the ups and downs of the experiment. One day was spent with Lipscomb and her family in Spartanburg on Dec. 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 poliovirus 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 poliovirus therapy.




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