Doctors using herpes to kill melanoma cells

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 6:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 10 at 7:06 PM

About 70,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year in the United States. Almost 9,000 will die. But now, doctors are using a STD to help patients beat the odds.

Ira Dickstein is on a search. He's spent the last seven years looking for a cure to his cancer.

"I found a significant black and blue area on the inside of my toe," said Dickstein, a melanoma patient. "It was hidden. It was big enough when I could see it, when I looked at the bottom of my foot. That's when I knew there was something wrong, but I didn't know it was melanoma."

Then the melanoma spread above his knee.

"It's under the skin now," he said.

Dickstein is taking part in his third clinical trial, but this time it seems to be working.

"My melanoma actually retracted a bit," he said.

Doctors injected the lesion with a sexually transmitted disease.

"It can be engineered to specifically target cancer cells," said Dr. Gregory Daniels, medical oncologist at the University of California, San Diego.

Daniels is using a form of the herpes virus.

"It destroys the cell," he said.

When the body recognizes a virus, it increases a patient's immune response.

"Our body automatically recognizes that as a dangerous situation and attracts a response to it," he said.

It's working for Dickstein.

"The lesions that were directly injected shrunk, and one disappeared completely," said Dickstein. "The others were going backwards."

It's a good sign that his search for a cure is ending and he can get back to his other pursuits – like bird watching.

"The rarer the bird, the better for me," he said.

The virus is engineered so it doesn't harm healthy cells. This approach could potentially be used to treat other cancers as well.

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