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Biotech Medicine Science

Training an Immune System To Kill Cancer 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the while-humming-eye-of-the-tiger dept.
NotSanguine sends in a story about William Ludwig, a 65-year-old leukemia patient who underwent a new, experimental treatment that draws upon two decades of advances in molecular biology. Quoting: "Doctors removed a billion of his T-cells — a type of white blood cell that fights viruses and tumors — and gave them new genes that would program the cells to attack his cancer. Then the altered cells were dripped back into Mr. Ludwig’s veins. At first, nothing happened. But after 10 days, hell broke loose in his hospital room. He began shaking with chills. His temperature shot up. His blood pressure shot down. He became so ill that doctors moved him into intensive care and warned that he might die. His family gathered at the hospital, fearing the worst. A few weeks later, the fevers were gone. And so was the leukemia. ... In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person's own immune system to kill cancer cells."
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Training an Immune System To Kill Cancer

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  • Xkcd on the topic (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sparx139 (1460489) on Tuesday September 13, 2011 @09:38PM (#37394156)
  • Didn't we get this a couple weeks back?

    Use HIV to reprogram his white blood cells to attack cancer?

  • There's a company called Argos therapeutics http://www.argostherapeutics.com/ [argostherapeutics.com] which uses proteins harvested from cancer biopsies to do the same thing. Last I checked, they were in phase 2 clinicals (efficacy testing). This is as close to personalized medicine as anyone is really able to do right now. Disclaimer: the only tie to the company that I have is that I interviewed there a couple years ago (didn't get the job unfortunately).
  • From a few weeks back. XKCD even did a comic on it.
    http://www.xkcd.com/938/ [xkcd.com]

  • Does this mean he's practically immune to cancer now? Like, he could smoke, drink, bqq and huff glue all he wants and not get cancer again... just like, maybe flu symptoms? I'm kinda jealous... I wonder what other super powers this might come with. (Reduced aging anyone?)

    • T cells focus on a single invader DNA, there are many different cancer DNA- Meaning no, this won't give full immunity.
      • by autophile (640621)

        Correction, I think: T cells focus on protein markers. This is why one of the patients died: the protein marker associated with the cancerous cells also turned out to be present on healthy lung tissue.

    • Unfortunately for us, "Cancer" is a very plural mass noun(both because it is a catch-all category for a large number of conditions caused by one's own cells dividing in excess, and because cells that have jumped the tracks and defeated the various safeguards in place against uncontrolled replication are in an excellent position to evolve rapidly).

      If he's lucky, this particular flavor of cancer won't be back to finish him off. Even then, though, there are a zillion others just waiting in the wings...
    • by sjames (1099)

      He is immune to that particular cancer now. Unfortunately, he remains just as vulnerable as any of us to the others.

  • Whenever I see a suggestion about using the immune system in some new and novel way I cannot help but get worried about autoimune side effects.

    I guess it is a bit irrational since vaccinations are basically stimulating the immune system to hit specific pathogens, and most of them are very safe as compared to other drugs, but I can't help but feel a bit uneasy about training the body to attack its own cells.

    • by dr2chase (653338)

      I think there's much more to worry about here than with a vaccination, seeing as how the cancer is a lot more like us than some random bacteria or virus. However, don't forget "compared to what". People were willing to do some scary shit to avoid Smallpox ("here, I'll infect you from this pus-filled sore on a cow"). Someone who's already got bad cancer is in an even worse place than that.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Actually, autoimmune reactions are a serious risk with this sort of treatment. One woman died of an autoimmune attack on her lungs when a similar technique was tried to cure her colon cancer. It's particularly tricky since the target is actually cells from the patient's own body that just have damage to a few critical genes.

      The patient's recovery is BECAUSE of an autoimmune reaction to his own B cells. ALL of his B cells, cancerous or not. In his case, they weren't working well anyway (the few healthy ones

  • by Farmer Tim (530755) <roundfile@NospaM.mindless.com> on Tuesday September 13, 2011 @09:49PM (#37394258) Journal

    I can't gauge the validity of this research without a mention of subluxations as a calibration reference for my stupidity detector.

  • by poity (465672)

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/08/11/1458205/Cancer-Cured-By-HIV [slashdot.org]
    Incredibly interesting nonetheless.

  • by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:09AM (#37394914)
    The chance of causing an autoimmune disease with this sort of treatment protocol seems enormous... Do you really think that nothing could possibly go wrong in training the body to kill its own cells of a specific narrow type?
    • by mldi (1598123)

      The chance of causing an autoimmune disease with this sort of treatment protocol seems enormous... Do you really think that nothing could possibly go wrong in training the body to kill its own cells of a specific narrow type?

      I'd still take that possibility over a terrible death sentence any day. Well, depending on the traffic on the way to the clinic. Then I may just take the death sentence.

  • I remember reading about a decades old cancer treatment technique that included fevers with very high temperatures. The physicians of the time claimed it was the body heat that killed the tumors.

    Don't know how valid that is, but I know that a doctor told me once when I have fever not to take an aspirin just to lower the body temperature (unless it's dangerously high) because fever creates conditions for the body to fight the germs.

    • I remember reading about a decades old cancer treatment technique that included fevers with very high temperatures. The physicians of the time claimed it was the body heat that killed the tumors.

      Don't know how valid that is, but I know that a doctor told me once when I have fever not to take an aspirin just to lower the body temperature (unless it's dangerously high) because fever creates conditions for the body to fight the germs.

      I dunno about fighting cancer that way (it might work: I just don't know) but the germ thing is valid. Bacteria and viruses are optimized to reproduce as quickly as possible at body temperature. Their proteins are less efficient as temperature varies either way from that optimum. So when you run a temperature, you slow down their reproduction rate, which gives your immune system more time to form a response and go fight them. (Bacteria can reproduce in about half an hour, which means they can increase b

      • by BigDogCH (760290)
        Excellent response. So I often wonder then why parents are so eager to freak out when their kid runs a slight fever. Get the drugs, we need to get that fever down! WTF? Where does that come from?
  • Well, science is not far from fiction. In Old man's war, Scalzi writes about human clones with altered blood (it's called SmartBlood). This SmartBlood fight infections, keeps oxygen longer... and burns mosquitos :) I think it is the way we go, to become genetically altered humans. But, really, HUMANS? Or something else? Hell with it. I don't care, just make it work for cancer.
  • It sounds like it is right out of a sci-fi movie, where the cure has a kick to it,
    looks like you might not make it after taking it, and yet after the storm passes, WOW, the results are amazing.

    I hope they get to test this a few more times just to make sure, as well as follow said patient 10 years after,
    as it is important to see if the cells will be ok 10 years later and not morph or mutate....I just hope they do not let
    him walk away without keeping tabs on him.

  • Cancer itself is caused by immune system.
  • by jafac (1449) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @02:56PM (#37402678) Homepage

    A friend of mine has this condition, and had this treatment.
    He has had white hair all his life. After the treatment, he lost his hair, but it grew back black. They do not know if he's "cured", but he's doing better. His condition brought with it, many secondary tumors, and those have stopped.

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"

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