No, not the disease itself, but the live attenuated vaccine against it.

And yes, it just might cure some forms of cancer.

At least, that was the headline-grabbing conclusion that emerged from the Mayo Clinic in mid-May of this year. It came about after an experimental treatment that had previously succeeded only in mice. And the patient population was unfortunately rather small: two. Nevertheless, the result was startling.

Stacy Erholtz was dying of blood cancer, having exhausted all conventional therapies. In a last-ditch effort to save her life, doctors at the clinic injected her with a massive concentration of measles vaccine, which appears to have an affinity for certain kinds of tumors. Erholtz received 100 billion “infectious units” all at once. That’s the equivalent of a standard vaccination for 10 million people.

Result: after that one infusion, the cancer—which had widely metastasized—went into complete remission and has vanished from Erholtz’s body.

Medical scientists have long known that viruses can have cancer-destroying properties. They bind to tumors and use them as labs to manufacture their own genetic material, eventually bursting the host cell and releasing the viral buildup. That would be an undesirable outcome, so researchers have been focusing on antiviral vaccines that have been rendered safe, to see if they can produce the same effects. That could be an adjunct to targeted therapy, where radioactive molecules might be made to piggyback on the vaccines, to destroy cancer cells without causing damage to healthy cells in the vicinity. The body’s immune system also gets involved, going after any cells that carry the vaccine’s genetic imprint.

But the best case would be a vaccine alone knocking tumors out. Now it’s apparently happened and, in the words of Mayo’s lead researcher, Dr. Stephen Russell: “It’s a landmark.”

The experiment was a proof of concept that was important not only for the cure, but also for answering another critical question. Researchers have been searching hard for the threshold level of virus that’s required to defeat the defense mechanisms in cancerous tumors. The Mayo study helps set that bar, notes Dr. John C. Bell of the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research in Ottawa.

Clinicians had started with doses of 1 million infectious units and worked their way up before finally achieving efficacy at the 100-billion level. Bad luck for those who received the lower dosages, because this is a one-shot deal. Once the vaccine has been introduced, the body’s immune system will recognize it and attack any future incursions.

That would also seem to be true of people who have already received the vaccine as a measles preventative. Yet there might still be hope. Patients with myeloma-type cancer (bone marrow and blood plasma) often have suppressed immune systems, which could be enough to allow the virus to slip by and do the job. In addition, Dr. Russell says that breaking down the immune system prior to treatment will be part of another upcoming clinical trial.

The immune system might also be tricked by taking a patient’s own cells, loading them up with the virus, and injecting them back into the blood. “That way it doesn’t get destroyed before it reaches its target,” Russell says.

Unfortunately, the second patient who received the same treatment did not respond as well. Her tumors were in her leg muscles. That may mean that measles is attracted only to myelomas, but Russell hopes not. He says that researchers will study how various types of tumors affect the lethality of the virus. “I think if we had been able to give bigger dose, we might have gotten a better outcome in that second patient,” he adds.

Dr. Bell, who wrote an editorial to accompany publication of the experiment in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, is obviously encouraged. “Without trying to hype it too much, it is a very significant discovery,” Bell says.

Significant enough that the clinic is enrolling patients now for a larger-scale trial to see if the same result can be duplicated across a range of cases. Mayo expects to launch the trial no later than September.

Of course, finding a cure for cancer that’s simple, preferably “natural,” and free of gruesome side effects is everybody’s goal. No one is happy with the current triumvirate of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—AKA “slash, burn, and poison.”

Thus it’s no surprise that people will try anything that holds out even a glimmer of hope. Many such “cures” have been trumpeted over the years.

Remember Laetrile? A synthetic compound that’s chemically related to amygdalin—a substance found naturally in the pits of apricots and other fruits—it enjoyed brief notoriety in the 1950s when its discoverer touted it as a cancer treatment. It was never approved for use in the US, but many desperate people made the trip to Mexico, where it could be legally obtained. They were disappointed. Scientists eventually tested it in more than 20 animal tumor models, as well as in humans, and found no benefit either alone or in combination with other substances.

Perhaps chocolate lovers should rejoice… or not. One clinical trial found that dark chocolate reduces some kinds of DNA changes that can lead to cancer, and a few others have noticed improvements in other chemical changes related to aspects of the disease. All of this is preventative, not curative (though if real, that would be most welcome). But researchers have yet to isolate the beneficial compounds in chocolate and prepare higher doses to test out. No double-blind human studies of any kind have yet been done.

There are endless further examples. Juice regimens, enemas, Vitamin D, wheatgrass, selenium, green tea, shiitake mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables, on and on—you name it and chances are pretty good that someone claims it has cancer-fighting properties. I typed “natural cancer cures” into Google and got over 250,000 hits.

Some of them may even work. We don’t know, because few have been subjected to the kind of rigorous clinical trials the FDA requires before releasing a new drug for public consumption.

Is it possible, as alternative medicine promoters would have it, that there’s a conspiracy afoot? That nobody tests potential natural cancer cures because they couldn’t profit from something that’s cheap and freely available? Sure. In fact, the latter statement is a certainty. But a conspiracy isn’t needed. No pharmaceutical company is going to push broccoli through even minimal Phase I trials. You can’t patent broccoli. (Although, since the courts have begun allowing patents on other naturally occurring substances, fruits and vegetables may someday be branded like football stadiums.)

With FDA approval of a new therapy now costing a billion dollars or more and often taking a decade, companies can’t afford to take a flier on wheatgrass. They have to shoot for blockbusters that can earn back high multiples of the investment if they want to remain in business.

As of now, evidence of natural cures is purely anecdotal. And so it must remain for the foreseeable future, until anecdotal material about one particular cure piles up so much it can’t be ignored. Even then, some nonprofit, academic lab, or government agency has to be willing to step up and do the necessary testing without a profit incentive.

Meanwhile, though, actual clinical research is proceeding on a number of alternative cancer treatment fronts besides the measles vaccine. Hormone therapy, immunotherapy, angiogenesis inhibitors, high-intensity focused ultrasound, photodynamic therapy, radiofrequency ablation, telomerase therapy, nanobubbles, bacterial treatments—all are either here now, in trials, or on the near horizon.

We’ve reported on all of them in Casey Extraordinary Technology. We also monitor this ongoing cancer research closely in order to identify companies we think will provide the high level of returns that we’ve achieved with cancer drugs and other medicine-related investments. Our screening process is rigorous. And more often than not, we’ve scored big. We’ve booked winners on 14 out of 17 closed positions in the biotech and medical device sectors. That includes 305% gains on Isis Pharmaceuticals, 127% on Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, 108% on Seattle Genetics—plus 197% on MannKind Corp. and 167% on Celsion in just 6.5 and 7 months respectively. Want to examine our complete track record? Want to find out which biotech stocks are our current best bets? You can, when you sign up for a risk-free 90-day trial