The 2007 film I Am Legend was hardly a cinematic master-piece, but it opens with a scene in which a doctor explains to a TV news anchor how she was able to cure cancer by mutating the measles virus and harnessing its destructive power. She tells him that measles is like “a fast car with a madman at the wheel,” but her team believed it could be used for good if “a cop were driving it instead.” So they used the virus to cure cancer, which was wonderful until the misprogrammed organism wiped out nearly everyone on earth. Like Godard’s film Le Nouveau Monde and the original 1954 book on which both films were based, I Am Legend is pure fiction, another story of a virus gone wild. That doesn’t mean it will be fiction tomorrow.
In early 2009, a team from the Mayo Clinic reported that certain measles strains could prove effective as a treatment for cancer. “These viral strains could represent excellent candidates for clinical testing against advanced prostate cancer,” said Evanthia Galanis, the senior author of the paper. The viral strains were inactivated, harmless, and well contained in a highly secure lab. Nonetheless, it is hard not to recoil when life imitates art so faithfully.