Polio virus kills college student's brain tumor

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - It is an incredible story of a girl with a rare and deadly form of cancer seemingly saved by a shocking experimental treatment at Duke Medical Center.

Don't let her easy disposition fool you. She smiles a lot, laughs easily. But doctors will tell you Stephanie Lipscomb should be dead right now.

"The odds weren't good. They didn't expect me to live more than two years I don't think," she said.

The University of South Carolina nursing student was just 20, a sorority girl, part time waitress, and all around girl next door when she began having migraines. She was diagnosed with a rare and deadly stage four Glioblastoma, a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.

"It was shocking, scary, mind-blowing. I mean I was 20. It's not very common to have cancer, especially in your head, at 20," said Stephanie.

Doctors were aggressive. They had to be.

"I had surgery. I went through 10 weeks of radiation therapy. I had oral and IV chemotherapy going at the same time as radiation," Stephanie said.

But just a few months later, the cancer was back. Stephanie got the news at Duke Medical Center's world renowned Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

"They gave me and my mom some time alone in the room, and of course we cried and held each other and hugged. And then my doctor came back in and she was like, 'Stephanie, we have a couple of options,'" she said.

One was a shocking, experimental study.

"She told me, 'This has not been tested on humans yet. You would be the first human to ever receive this.' As soon as she said it, she was like, 'We're going inject polio into your brain.' I was like okay, let's do it," said Stephanie.

In May 2012, doctors at Duke injected a modified version of the polio virus into the tumor in Stephanie's brain. A researcher there spent 20 years figuring out the virus would attach to the bad cells and kill them without harming Stephanie in any way.

"Looking back, I'm like oh my gosh, I cannot believe I agreed to do that so quickly. And like I've told other people before, I knew that was God," she said.

Incredibly, last July doctors told Stephanie her tumor was gone. Her MRI from this January shows only scar tissue remains. Her story is featured in this week's People magazine.

Stephanie is cancer free as she gets ready to celebrate the 23rd birthday doctors said she'd never see.

This is still in the experimental stages. A handful of other patients are now involved. The hope is that this same treatment can someday be used to fight other cancers as well.

Stephanie is headed back to Duke this summer to work as a nursing assistant.


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