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Medicine Science

Implant Raises Cellular Army To Attack Cancer 193

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the zombie-medicine dept.
holy_calamity writes "New Scientist reports on a sneaky new approach to getting the immune system to fight cancer. An implant releases a 'molecular perfume' irresistible to messenger immune cells, which enter the implant where they are given a sample of the cancer's 'scent' and a disperse signal that sends them scurrying to the nearest lymph node. There they convince other immune cells to start attacking anything that matches the sample they picked up."
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Implant Raises Cellular Army To Attack Cancer

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  • uhhh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LilGuy (150110) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:41PM (#26419531)

    this is pretty amazing to a layman such as myself..

    • Re:uhhh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kranfer (620510) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:46PM (#26419615) Homepage Journal
      I am a layman myself as well. I think this is encouraging for anyone out there who is sick... However, I am still wondering if the whole stem cell way of doing things for cancer research is the better approach. However after RTA I did see that all of the control group died and the mice with the implant 90% were cured. I would want to read a real paper on it in a journal. Just as a though.... What would happen if the implants do not work on all human beings / test animals/subjects whatever... Say... your body just starts literally killing ALL cells... cancer and normal... I am just wondering if they have a way to stop the process if they need to... Ah well. Good work Doctors!
      • Re:uhhh (Score:5, Funny)

        by snowraver1 (1052510) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:51PM (#26419727)
        Time to quit quitting smoking!
        • by ArcherB (796902)

          Time to quit quitting smoking!

          My thoughts exactly... or almost. I was actually thinking:

          WooHoo! I DON'T need to quit smoking!

        • Not to rain on your cigar, but lung cancer is only a tiny part of the ways smoking kills. The tar in your lungs will give you asthma, while the nicotine is toxic, addictive and constricts your arteries, resulting in circulatory disease and eventually heart failure.

      • Re:uhhh (Score:5, Informative)

        by ZombieWomble (893157) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:58PM (#26419841)

        I would want to read a real paper on it in a journal.

        If you're that fussy about your sources, at least read down to the bottom of the article to see if they have citations. Like this one:

        http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nmat2357.html [nature.com]

      • Unfortunately... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by philspear (1142299) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:01PM (#26419889)

        However after RTA I did see that all of the control group died and the mice with the implant 90% were cured.

        I hate to say it, but that's over-interpreting. This appears to have warded off imminent death in the mice, which is a result that is very encouraging. Unfortunately, it likely did not -cure- the mice. When we see data indicating these mice have a 5-year survival which is greater than the control (uh... or whatever the equivalent is since even healthy mice maybe don't live 5 years) then I too will be celebrating.

        The immune system would sort of be vaccinated against markers on the cancer cells, but there's no guarantee that every cancer cell will have the marker and will keep it. You can imagine that if 99% of the cells in a tumor do have it, the tumor may be killed by the primed cells, but that 1% that doesn't will repopulate a while later.

        Of course, this may have a feedback effect. I'm no immunologist, but I would hazard a guess that if a tumor were being attacked in this manner, the increased activity in the area may start targeting that 1% too. Maybe. That could also be a downside, as you can imagine if the immune system is primed but learns the wrong marker, you suddenly have an autoimmune disease on top of the cancer. Once again, I'm not an immunologist, so I don't know whether that's pure crap or not.

        So it's another good finding, and of course a way to fight tumors is a miracle to a patient even if it's not a complete cure. It might be a total cure, but let's not set ourselves up for dissapointment.

        • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Metasquares (555685) <slashdot@[ ]asquared.com ['met' in gap]> on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:23PM (#26420275) Homepage

          You can imagine that if 99% of the cells in a tumor do have it, the tumor may be killed by the primed cells, but that 1% that doesn't will repopulate a while later.

          This is why we haven't cured the disease yet. The tumor evolves and all that our treatments do, if they are unable to kill off the entire tumor, is select for cells that are resistant. I'm not an oncologist, although I am involved in medical research, but it seems to me that a more effective strategy would be to select for cells that are specifically weak to conventional treatment prior to administering it. Just as in machine classification*, a combination of individually effective treatments that work in different ways should tend to perform best, especially if resistance to one implies weakness to another.

          *Because cancer treatment is really just one big classification problem: you want to kill all of the cancer cells and none of the normal ones. Get the sensitivity to 100% (all cancer cells killed) with a high enough specificity (most normal cells left alone) and you win.

          • I am a bit worried about how close cancer cells are to regular cells ... Could this cause complications where the immune system goes after the rest of the body?

        • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:4, Informative)

          by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:43PM (#26420581) Journal

          I hate to say it, but that's over-interpreting. This appears to have warded off imminent death in the mice, which is a result that is very encouraging. Unfortunately, it likely did not -cure- the mice.

          "did not -cure- the mice" is an understatement.

          FTFA: In tests, the researchers implanted cylinders with a diameter of 8.5 millimetres into mice and two weeks later injected the animals with highly aggressive melanoma cells.

          All of this is academic until they can inject the mice with cancer then stick an implant in them and get a 90% cure rate.

          • Wow, I really read that backwards the first time! That is a bit of a puzzle... Still an encouraging preliminary study.

        • That could also be a downside, as you can imagine if the immune system is primed but learns the wrong marker, you suddenly have an autoimmune disease on top of the cancer.\

          It's not lupus.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by malchus6 (870609)

          "You can imagine that if 99% of the cells in a tumor do have it, the tumor may be killed by the primed cells, but that 1% that doesn't will repopulate a while later".

          It seems this new treatment, if able to eliminate 99% of said tumor would work well in combination with current treatments like chemo and radiation where you could then use much lower doses to kill the remaining % with less harm to the patient.

      • Not saying this treatment won't work, just saying don't get your hopes up.

        Mice don't usually live longer than 2 or 3 years, whereas humans do. The human body might already be doing stuff like that or even superior stuff.

        So there's a high chance that what works for mice for age related problems won't work for humans.

        Analogy: Researcher says, "hey I've just found that steel and concrete allows us to make bigger and taller mud huts", and then saying "We should use steel and concrete to make skyscrapers bigger
      • Re:uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by realmolo (574068) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:14PM (#26420103)

        "Say... your body just starts literally killing ALL cells... cancer and normal... "

        How do you think chemotherapy works? Or radiation therapy?

        Both treatments kill *all* cells. The idea is to kill the cancer cells *first*, before the treatment kills the patient.

        • Re:uhhh (Score:4, Informative)

          by philspear (1142299) on Monday January 12, 2009 @03:34PM (#26421485)

          Both treatments kill *all* cells. The idea is to kill the cancer cells *first*, before the treatment kills the patient.

          Not quite. The current generation of drugs do have a tendancy to affect any DIVIDING cells in the body, but not all of them. Big difference, your mature brain cells and your heart muscles should not directly be targeted. The fastest dividing cells in the body will generally be affected the most, that's cancer cell. It also helps that they're less stable than healthy cells and succumb to genomic damage faster. The lining of your gut, your fingernails, hair, and skin are also fast-dividing, they also will be affected, but I believe they divide slower than most cancers, and they are more resillient than cancer cells. There's also a numbers game though, cancer can be beaten back to one cell and still recover, you need most of your stomach lining intact. So you're right in that you should kill the cancer cells before you kill the patient, but it would take an extremely high dose of any chemotherapy to start killing EVERY cell in your body, and you as an organism would be dead at much lower doses.

        • welcome our new cellular overlords.

      • Re:uhhh (Score:5, Interesting)

        by macklin01 (760841) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:20PM (#26420225) Homepage

        I am just wondering if they have a way to stop the process if they need to... Ah well. Good work

        There has been recent work to treat autoimmune diseases by "erasing" the immune system's "memory" (e.g., memory B cells) by attacking the marrow with chemotherapy, then reseeding the system with harvested haematopoietic stem cells. Here's an example I find after a fast search [clinicaltrials.gov]. Of course, it leaves the patient with 0 immune system while it regenerates from the stem cells, and I'd imagine you'd have to redo all your vaccinations, etc., but I suppose that could do the trick. -- Paul

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by b4upoo (166390)

        One joy of implants is that they can usually be removed if things are not going so well.
        That being said there will always be a few people who have very severe and unusual reactions to anything at all. A strawberry, a speck of fish oil, or a touch of tomato or peanut is enough to kill certain people. Very high tech. products are not different in that respect. Even the very best items will always be lethal to someone, somewhere. That does not imply that those p

      • by kalirion (728907)

        However the article states that the implants were inserted two weeks before the cancer cells. Would it have worked if the cancer cells had been injected first? Otherwise this is not a cure but a vaccine - pretty useless for someone who already has cancer.

    • TGN1412 (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maestro371 (762740)

      It'll be interesting to see how human trials go. The last time I saw cytokines referenced, it was in relation to this drug:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TGN1412 [wikipedia.org]

      Looked great in animal studies; not so great for the humans involved.

  • ...until we end up with Will Smith running around a post-apocalyptic New York hitting on mannequins.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by philspear (1142299)

      Psst, they weren't using viruses or anything contagious. Hard to see how small plastic inserts and protein could spread from person to person. Even if it did, it would cause an autoimmune disease, not reprogram you to be a vampire/zombie. And there are worse apocalypse scenarios than Will Smith hitting on mannequins.

  • Response from messenger cell: "not ur personal army"

  • I am not a doctor, however -- isn't the main problem with cancer cells being that they have the same protein coating as normal cells that identify them to the immune system as "yours" versus "other"? The only way to kill a cancer cell that way would be with something that actually enters the cell and can then interact with the malignant protein. On the outside, cancer cells "look" the same to the immune system. Or is there a protein that expresses in cancer cells that can be differentiated from non-cancer c

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:54PM (#26419779)

    Incorporate this in bullets and you get 100% lethality.

    "cellular army bullet" enters body, tip takes sample of nearby healthy cells, programs immune system to attack own body, person dies horrible death to both his own immune system and the pathogens which are now left alone by the distracted immune system.

    • by N1AK (864906) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:58PM (#26419843) Homepage
      It would already be trivially easy to make bullets that contained a lethal toxin, the reason we don't do it isn't because of inability. Yes, you could misuse this research (just like any other advance) but it certainly wouldn't be the bio-weapon of choice due to sheer inefficiency and slowness of effect.
      • by plasmacutter (901737) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:03PM (#26419925)

        It would already be trivially easy to make bullets that contained a lethal toxin, the reason we don't do it isn't because of inability. Yes, you could misuse this research (just like any other advance) but it certainly wouldn't be the bio-weapon of choice due to sheer inefficiency and slowness of effect.

        that's the beauty of it. It's a terror weapon.

        it will leave you in agony for days, weeks, or months knowing you will die.

        • by Ogive17 (691899)
          Then you create an army of suicide bombers. If they were already willing to fight (and kill).. knowing the enemy sentenced you to a slow and agonizing death.. I think the easy choice for most would be going down in a blaze of glory.
        • by evanbd (210358)
          So would a tiny blob of dimethyl mercury. For all that successful delivery would be a pain, it would be easier than this thing.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          You don't need a virus for this. Old musketshot used to do that too. The bullet would enter and instead of fragmenting (which modern bullets do because it kills faster by puncturing more organs and thus releasing more blood) they would flatten into a spinning disk upon entry. This disk would then have the same effect on your organs as a spinning fork in spaghetti. This tightly wound bundle of your vital organs would be torn and shredded but there was (relatively) little bleeding. Instead you'd linger a
      • by Sta7ic (819090)
        See, applications of Polonium 210 to ex-KGB agents.
    • by xappax (876447)
      Yeah, or you could just put poison on your bullets. If your bioweapon requires a bullet as a delivery system, it's not that devastating.
      • by Anpheus (908711)

        Au contraire, as numerous studies and thousands, perhaps millions have discovered, there is little deadlier than discarded munitions, especially after war is already over.

    • by philspear (1142299) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:07PM (#26419989)

      Incorporate this in bullets and you get 100% lethality.

      Well in terms of pure combat standards, an injured soldier is actually worse than a dead one, since the dead one can be carried off later, wheras the injured one needs immediate medical attention.

      Your body releases cytokines every time you get cut, or shot. Your immune system manages to avoid killing you in those cases, usually.

      Why bother with this roundabout way anyhow? If you absolutely want to kill everyone you shoot, it would be much easier and quicker to make a poisoned bullet.

      • Incorporate this in bullets and you get 100% lethality.

        Well in terms of pure combat standards, an injured soldier is actually worse than a dead one, since the dead one can be carried off later, wheras the injured one needs immediate medical attention.

        Your body releases cytokines every time you get cut, or shot. Your immune system manages to avoid killing you in those cases, usually.

        Why bother with this roundabout way anyhow? If you absolutely want to kill everyone you shoot, it would be much easier and quicker to make a poisoned bullet.

        in this scenario you get the best of both worlds.

        Wounded soldier then gets carried off to hospital, where they tell him the bullet has given him an auto-immune disorder and he has X months to live.

        News gets back to the front lines. Morale drops, and the will to fight dwindles.

        Given how the effects would look like an auto-immune disorder, this gives totalitarian elements in "democracies" (do they actually represent ANY of us anymore?) the way to untraceably dispose of political opponents.

        • Given how the effects would look like an auto-immune disorder, this gives totalitarian elements in "democracies" (do they actually represent ANY of us anymore?) the way to untraceably dispose of political opponents.

          Crazy conspiracy theories based on undeveloped technology aside, soldiers on battlefields are not political opponents (at least not for several years). As far as applications to real intrigues, remember almost anything will give you cancer, some substances are far more potent at that than smoking. If you really wanted to take out a political opponent and wanted to make it look natural, there are far more effective and easy ways to do it. In fact, I'd bet good money that there are more effective ways to m

        • by Arivia (783328)
          [tinfoil hat] oh so that's why we have aids [/tinfoil hat]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SatanicPuppy (611928) *

          Doesn't usually work that way.

          The line response is usually a level of insane fury toward the other side which results in massive cases of prisoner abuse, and the strategic response is to develop terror weapons of their own.

          Atrocities tend not to break the will of the people they're perpetrated against, terrorist ideology to the contrary.

      • by orielbean (936271)
        Or maybe a bigger bullet? Or maybe an explosive bullet? Or..?
      • by Agripa (139780)

        Why bother with this roundabout way anyhow? If you absolutely want to kill everyone you shoot, it would be much easier and quicker to make a poisoned bullet.

        This technique has been used for assassination [wikipedia.org].

    • by twbecker (315312)

      Wow a deadly bullet??? Now that's innovation! Hopefully your tinfoil hat is thick enough to deflect these bad boys. /sigh

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by canajin56 (660655)

      If it was that simple, you just need to aerosol the "disperse" signal, which the summary implies makes your immune cells immediately attack anything that matches what they were near at the time...fortunately for everybody, it's not nearly so simple. If it was, how could the chemical signal in question possibly exist? If your body ever released it, SOME cells would be closer to each other or other important cells! Almost as though the summary was a dumbed down explanation of how it sort of works? Plus

      • If it was that simple, you just need to aerosol the "disperse" signal, which the summary implies makes your immune cells immediately attack anything that matches what they were near at the time...fortunately for everybody, it's not nearly so simple. If it was, how could the chemical signal in question possibly exist? If your body ever released it, SOME cells would be closer to each other or other important cells! Almost as though the summary was a dumbed down explanation of how it sort of works? Plus if you want a poison bullet just fill it with cyanide? Or nicotine, which is a much more concentrated poison?

        Anyways, how this works is, these cells are exposed to concentrated antigens, specifically targeted and formulated in the lab before injection. Cancer is mostly just like your own body. But cancer cells make their own proteins. The body ignores them sometimes, saying "oh they're coming from me, must be harmless," which is bad. But if you rub your immune systems nose in it and say "Spread the word", as it were, it can be forced into attacking it whatever is making these proteins. I believe there's been limited success with just injecting large amounts of antigen, but your body doesn't always get the hint. What we see here is a combination of getting high concentrations of antigen, with a technique for making sure the body actually sends immune cells to investigate! I'm not sure what happens if you gather up a large concentration of natural bodily proteins, but I think in most cases it won't trigger an autoimmune response. And you certainly have to do that concentration in a lab, not in a bullet ;)

        Interesting, but you can bet your life the pharma companies are going to fight any efforts to certify such a technique tooth and nail. They make too much money off "treatments" to have an actual cure floating around.

    • Far easier to just use a solid metal bullet. The technology's proven itself reliable over the years. Also, while your body may resist this high-tech poisoning attempt, no immune system has ever been shown to have the ability to ignore your arteries being torn to shreds.
    • I was originally going to post some smart remark about there being easier ways to achieve a weapon with 100% lethality, but then I realized that there's an interesting puzzle there. How do you actually achieve 100% lethality with anything? There are survivors of every disaster, weapon, or other killing event (purposeful or not) in history. People have survived being shot in the head, suffocated, infected with terrible diseases, etc... Evolution has made it remarkably difficult to achieve an actual 100%
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by orielbean (936271)
      Bullets! My only weakness! How...did...you...know??!!
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:54PM (#26419785) Homepage

    The human immune system is a pretty potent beast to unleash. Getting it to attack cancer cells is genius. I would be worried about side effects, specifically the immune system getting confused or over-stimulated and attacking other things, but that's just speculation and surely for highly aggressive cancers like the ones they tested in the mice the risk would be more than worth it. We already use 'cures as bad as the disease' to treat cancer.

    On the same note, though, I was encouraged by the teaser at the end where they suggest using similar techniques to 'reprogram' the immune system to correct auto-immune disorders. Learning how to put the immune system back in its cage could be just as useful as being able to send it after a target.

    • As someone with severe allergies I enthusiastically agree! Presumably, if they can give instructions to attack then they can give instructions to stand down.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anpheus (908711)

        I Am Not A Doctor, but I believe once your immune system is trained to attack a particular type of something, it will always attack it whenever it discovers its presence. The immune system has no central dictionary of things it will or will not attack, but rather, is like a peer to peer system every component of the immune system shares some of the information of the entire body's list of "bad things."

        • I would agree, except for the fact that allergies can disappear (or greatly reduce) on their own. Just like we can get a new allergy at any point in life, they can also disappear at any point. So there must be some way to defuse the overreacting immune system.

    • The human immune system is a pretty potent beast to unleash. Getting it to attack cancer cells is genius. I would be worried about side effects, specifically the immune system getting confused or over-stimulated and attacking other things, but that's just speculation and surely for highly aggressive cancers like the ones they tested in the mice the risk would be more than worth it. We already use 'cures as bad as the disease' to treat cancer.

      Lets wait for the clinical trials first. If you develop minor allergies, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make in order to get rid of a life-threatening inoperable tumor.

      The bigger issue will probably be that this will kill most of the cells of the tumor, but there will be a resistant fraction of cancer cells left that will repopulate, which you could feasibly seed again I guess...

  • by commodoresloat (172735) on Monday January 12, 2009 @01:54PM (#26419789)

    If watching three seasons of Dexter has taught me anything, it's that once someone gets a taste for killing, they have a need to kill again. What happens with this army after it kills the cancer? Who does it kill next? You're going to have a mercenary army running loose in your system desperate for another kill....

    • by Anpheus (908711) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:11PM (#26420049)

      If watching three seasons of House has taught me anything, it's that once someone gets a taste for lying, they have a need to lie again. What happens with this army after it lies about curing cancer? Who does it lie to next? You're going to have a mercenary army running loose in your system desperate for another fabrication....

      • by Al Al Cool J (234559) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:39PM (#26420509)

        Watching three seasons of House should have taught you that if doctors think it is cancer, then it's not cancer, unless it turns out to actually be cancer. Also, the first five treatments they try will probably make things worse, and ultimately the patient will only be cured because of some random remark.

        • I always wondered why they didn't just throw out diagnoses until they notice there's only five minutes left in the episode and then go with the first thing that comes to mind.
        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Whats scary is the frequency in which House is a somewhat accurate representation of real life.

          No, some asshole genius doesn't step in and figure it out in the end based on some comment made by a random staff member, but rather based on some seemingly random fact brought up by the patient or family member that finally sets the case apart from all the others.

          The reality when dealing with the human body (or any other life form in general) is we really don't know how it works and our idea of medical diagnost

      • by sorak (246725)

        If watching three seasons of "Knight Rider" has taught me anything, it's that the Cancer cells will all have goatees, look like David Hasslehoff, and your immune system will emerge from this with a tricked out new trans-am.

  • I'm sure I'm about to show my ignorance here (and the fact that I did not RTFA) but couldn't this approach work against anything the body needs to fight? I'm thinking HIV/AIDS, hospital drug-resistant bacteria, Ebola, etc.? Although, in the case of AIDS, I guess the immune system itself is already ineffective. I can see this as a much better alternative to the current method of introducing toxins into the body in the hopes that it kills the disease before the host.
  • Obviously a long way from use in humans. But I am impressed with the out of the box thinking in this approach. It seems dramatic changes in health care are coming in then next decade.

    http://pbrewer.blogspot.com/2008/12/dec-18th-lunch.html [blogspot.com]

  • by exploder (196936) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:06PM (#26419971) Homepage

    As opposed to the nonmolecular kind?

  • The right approach (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tacubaruba (553520) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:09PM (#26420019)
    When my father had lung cancer, I did a lot of research on cancer treatments and came to believe that the best possible treatment for cancer was to get the body's immune system to attack it. Especially for cancer that has spread, you need a systemic treatment that targets the cancer cells while not damaging the healthy ones and nothing will ever be as effective at doing that as the body's own immune system. This treatment is very encouraging and is on the right track. There are also several cancer vaccines under development that train the immune system to fight cancer before it takes hold. In the future, you may be able to get vaccinated against the kind of cancers that you are genetically vulnerable to.
    • by mpeskett (1221084)

      Your immune system already does suppress cancers to some extent, killing off damaged cells before they turn cancerous, or before a tumour grows too large. I heard of a case a while back where someone had a kidney transplant, and because of the anti-rejection drugs suppressing their immune system a previously dormant cancer started to grow. When it was discovered they had to come off the suppressant drugs, which sent the cancer into remission but meant they lost the kidney.

      When a person "gets cancer" it's

  • Vaccines work much the same way, I'm surprised it took until now to come up with this.

    Of course, one has to wonder what the reprogrammed cells go after once the cancer's been eaten, since "cancer" is defined as the abnormal growth rate of otherwise-normal (at least for the location they were supposed to be in) cells. I could see an immune reconstitution-style problem popping up. Point a bunch of 'redirected' immune cells at lung cancer, for example, and there's a possibility they will "finish" the cancerous

  • "In tests, the researchers implanted cylinders with a diameter of 8.5 millimetres into mice and two weeks later injected the animals with highly aggressive melanoma cells."

    This sounds ok for research, but in real life you would detect the cancer first and then implant the capsule.

    The logical way to carry that experiment would be to implant the cancerous cells first and then, after some time, implant the capsule. I guess they would have done it first that way and if it is not on the report, that means that i

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      So it's a vaccine rather than a cure? Meh, still pretty good. Won't help those who already have it, but people with high risk could be given it in advance.

  • I AM LEGEND (Score:3, Funny)

    by jjohn (2991) on Monday January 12, 2009 @02:24PM (#26420305) Homepage Journal

    Did anyone else think of the latest movie version of /I AM LEGEND/ when reading about this miracle cure for cancer?

    I'll begin hording food and guns now.

  • by ViennaSt (1138481) on Monday January 12, 2009 @03:54PM (#26421851)
    I'm in the Cancer Biotech industry. For all laymens out there who don't get how this mechanism works, allow me to explain with the played out "lock and key" analogy that is taught in every biology class ever. Remember, I'm compromising some scientific accuracy to explain the concept. Everyone knows that it must be done so people can understand, even those writing for scientific journals. So for all the science geeks, please don't troll this looking to correct every nuance.

    Background info....Think of these antigens the article is referring to as extremely unique binding sites ("locks"). A cell can have a variety of locks on the cell surface. Some exist to bind to only one other molecule or binding site of another specific cell. So for anything to bind this lock, it must work like an incredibly precise lock and key mechanism. Our immune's adaptive systems (that is, T cells) go around with their "set of keys"** to every cell they come across and see if they fit into the "cell's lock" (remember, that's the antigen). These T cells have keys to fit the "locks" of bacteria, viruses, tumors, or any foreign, non-human cells that's there. That is why when you come across the same flu virus you were immunized against, the T cells, already having the right "key" made, can bind to the cell and cause cell death. But if it's a new flu virus, with the lock even slightly modified by a few DNA mutations, the T-cell's keys must be made to fit once again (this takes ~2 weeks and requires B cells, antibody production, etc).

    Now to get to the tumor part....Tumors with tumor-specific antigens (TSAs) will fit the keys of T-cells once the keys are made. I recall someone asking "what if the immune cells kill healthy tissue?" There are "locks" called TAAs (tumor associated antigens) that are present on normal and tumor cells...they will all be destroyed. (Thankfully you can regenerate most of your healthy tissue--the rationale behind using toxic chemotherapeutics that target healthy and cancer tissue).

    Now to actually explain the article's research....So effectively what this research is trying to accomplish IS THIS: release a barrel of locks around the tumor that will ONLY bind to the tumor. ALLOW your T-cells and other immune cells to use their "keys" to BIND the huge number of locks and activate cell death of the tumor cells. Currently, most research of biologic cancer drug development is focused on producing the right "key" for the naturally occurring "locks" that are present on cancer cells. Let me say that this research is a great approach--why not make and put the locks there?

    Side note and extra info for fun....It's easy to think that one method of research is going to replace another. But the new trend is hitting cancer cells with EVERYTHING at once. That is, chemotherapy + biologic + barrel of "locks" + whatever else is out there. In addition, another trend that may occur is treating cancer like a CHRONIC illness, like diabetes. You've all seen how at best we can only kill 90-99% of tumor cells (at least, our imaging technology can only pick up small malignancy, not individual tumor cells)....so imagine getting cancer treatment intermittently every 2-5 years, but never experiencing symptoms of cancer (ie sickness, death)...I just thought I'd share that extra stuff. Now that I'm done with my essay I guess I should get back to my cancer research. Thanks for reading all the way through, and please comment.

    **For the science geek: Yes Yes, I know the role antibodies play as the "set of keys" T-cells use...I think it would compromise the easy of explanation if I got into all that

  • This reminds me of the star trek episode [memory-alpha.org] where these genetically enhanced children had an immune system that could not only fight off infection within themselves, but also seek out and destroy any infectious agents in the vicinity. Of course these super-immune systems went haywire. It started attacking regular people causing them to age at an advanced rate.
  • There's a good reason they have to implant the device before injecting the cancer cells. The immune response isn't instantaneous, it takes some time, 2 weeks or so, for the immune system to reach it's full response. But this particular cancer kills untreated mice in about 20 days, which doesn't really leave the immune system much time to really do it's job. Fortunately, most types of cancer aren't lethal in 20 days, and for a more "normal" cancer that could take months or years to be fatal, the immune syste
  • Once you get past the misleading science-journalist talk of "scents" and so on, this sounds an awful lot like the "antibody-based therapeutics" [mediwire.com] that have been around for decades. But I'm no scientist, and I only even know of this stuff because my dad's an immunologist who works on it. Could anyone out there explain if/how this is anything new or different?

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