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Killing Cancer By Retraining the Patient's Immune System 175

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-get-'im-rock dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There's an interesting story on CNN about the University of Pennsylvania's human trial results on curing intractable cancer by retraining the patient's own immune system. Quoting: 'Nick Wilkins was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 4 years old, and when the cancer kept bouncing back, impervious to all the different treatments the doctors tried, his father sat him down for a talk. John Wilkins explained to Nick, who was by then 14, that doctors had tried chemotherapy, radiation, even a bone marrow transplant from his sister. ... A few months later, Nick traveled from his home in Virginia to Philadelphia to become a part of the experiment. This new therapy was decidedly different from the treatments he'd received before: Instead of attacking his cancer with poisons like chemotherapy and radiation, the Philadelphia doctors taught Nick's own immune cells to become more adept at killing the cancer. Two months later, he emerged cancer-free. It's been six months since Nick, now 15, received the personalized cell therapy, and doctors still can find no trace of leukemia in his system. ... Twenty-one other young people received the same treatment at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and 18 of them, like Nick, went into complete remission -- one of them has been disease-free for 20 months.'"
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Killing Cancer By Retraining the Patient's Immune System

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  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:57AM (#45632305)
    You're correct about the fact that the term "cancer-free" essentially means "we can't detect very small numbers of cells" in common-sense English, but the fact remains that this therapy (which isn't [] exactly [] news [], BTW) leaves a large persistent population or cancer-killing modified leukocytes in a patient's body even after a period of over a year, and reappearance of large numbers of cancer cells simply doesn't seem likely under these circumstances.
  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stickerboy (61554) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:17AM (#45632419) Homepage

    Why do I even bother responding to this nonsense.

    Cancer gets cured about once a decade, sometimes by real doctors, sometimes by "quacks." I could show stats from real doctors with similar results to this one, which never saw the light of day once it was discovered (or rediscovered).

    Please, do show us the stats. I get tired of the false meme that "oh, we would have cured disease X already if the results weren't being suppressed in a big conspiracy"! Medical research is hard work, and frustrating. Not only do you have to cure the disease in the test tube, but then you have to cure the disease in a living patient, and make sure it doesn't do something equally or more horrible to the patient in the process.

    On top of that, the public has been oblivious to the fact that real progress in cancer treatment, and yes, even cures, are being made. Many leukemias and lymphomas are now curable through chemotherapy and radiation. This boy in the article is in the small minority that standard treatment did not work. Solid tumor cancers are getting better early detection and treatment. Mortality from many cancers has been dropping over the last 2 decades. [] What was once usually a consistent death sentence doesn't have to be.

    People don't actually like creativity, even in medicine: []

    Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.

    In medicine, innovative things happen all the time. When *you* go to the doctor, you get the same ol' thing that has been done since 1952.

    Most of us physicians try to live up to our creed: "First, do no harm." This includes not jumping to try every crazy-ass, untested treatment that some would-be genius cooked up and put in a syringe on the patients under our charge, if there are other treatment options that are still available. And here's a crazy thought: some diseases are better off untreated. I have an 85 year-old with dementia that was recently diagnosed with a lung tumor, likely malignant cancer but slow growing. Am I going to recommend putting her under general anesthesia, the knife, follow-up chemotherapy and possible radiation? Hell no.

    If you truly think the standard of care in medicine is the same as 1952, I invite you, when you get sick, to turn down any or all recommendations for an MRI or a CAT scan. No heart catheterizations. No minimally invasive or laparoscopic surgery. No joint replacements. Very few blood pressure, cardiac, or autoimmune treatments. None of the advances for asthma and other lung diseases. If you're infected and allergic to penicillins and sulfa medications, good luck! I certainly wouldn't want the alternatives: veritable bleach in the veins or antibiotics toxic to the kidneys and ears.

    tl,dr: You're full of it.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:5, Informative)

    by sandytaru (1158959) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:23AM (#45632727) Journal
    Oh, your insurance company will cover it if it's a genuine cure. A lifetime of leukemia treatments sets them back a cool million bucks. Half of that to make you healthy so they never have to pay another cent except for checkups? They'll jump right on top of it.

    Don't forget that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are at odds with each other. Pharma makes their money charging people as much as they can for stuff. Insurance companies make their money paying out as little of that as they can, so they'll negotiate with the pharm company to pay less than retail (often much less.)

    What insurance companies won't pay for is "experimental" treatments - stuff that is still in Phase I-IV human trials - because they're not proven to work and are as liable to permanently injure you as they are to cure you. Or have no effect at all in the long run.
  • Re: Cancer cured! (Score:4, Informative)

    by segedunum (883035) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:35AM (#45632817)

    Drugs that treat the patient for a few months and then they die, or a working treatment that the patient has to receive over their entire (longer now) life?

    A cure for cancer would be a gold mine for a pharmaceutical company.

    That is not a cure.

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:3, Informative)

    by botnick (3457275) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:47AM (#45632895)

    I knew this was familiar, here's a similar article in ny times from 2011. [] The therapy isn't quite risk free, in the linked article it says that a 39-old woman died when the retrained T-cells targeted a protein in her lungs; just 15 minutes after the injection and she developed breathing problems which I guess goes to show how potent destroyers T-cells can be.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:5, Informative)

    by rjh (40933) <> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:56AM (#45632967)

    I'm reminded that when President Truman had his heart attack in 1956, the official prescription from his physician was bed rest accompanied by Mrs. Truman to keep him warm.

    That was the whole, complete prescription.

    Anyone who says medicine hasn't improved since 1952 simply isn't paying attention.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:5, Informative)

    by rjh (40933) <> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:03PM (#45633017)

    The reason why progress has been so slow is because there is no one single disease, "cancer." Instead we have a few thousand different diseases which we collectively call cancer. Many of them look extremely similar, even to professional oncologists. First we have to identify all of these different cancers, and then we have to discover effective treatments against them. Some cancers will have common weaknesses; many (most?) do not.

    There's a reason why cancer is called "the Emperor of Maladies". Cancer is probably the hardest scientific problem the human race has ever wrestled with. It makes the moon shot and the internet look like pikers by comparison.

    Cancer is hard, and every day we don't have a cure more people are going to die in horrible ways. The first part makes us want to give up on cancer research, or to say that it's too hard, or to say that we haven't made any progress... but the second part will always keep us coming back to do more research and make another attempt.

    My dream is that cancer might be cured in 100 years. I think it's a dream worth working for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:25PM (#45633161)
    I had a similar treatment (tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) w/o genetic engineering) for my stage 4 malignant melanoma 16 months ago at NIH. My tumors are almost gone: one left, barely large enough to be visible in the resolution of the CT scanner. The fifteen years of statistics at NIH of this trial show five-year survival rates of 20% to 40% (depending on whether or not total body radiation was included), which is incredible for melanoma. Some patients are getting genetic engineering on their WBC to see whether or not that improves the procedure. Modern medicine is incredible. Personalized therapy for cancers via immunology is a very promising direction.
  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Idarubicin (579475) < minus pi> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:19PM (#45633375) Journal

    In medicine, innovative things happen all the time. When *you* go to the doctor, you get the same ol' thing that has been done since 1952.

    I don't know why I'm even bothering to respond to someone who writes down such utter bollocks, but I'll bite.

    The very first cancer patient was treated with cobalt-60 irradiation in late 1951, in London, Ontario--so I suppose that slips into your 1952 window (though the instruments used in those preliminary 1951 tests bear very little resemblance to those used today). The first use of a clinical linear accelerator for high-energy radiotherapy wasn't until 1956, at Stanford.

    The first clinical x-ray CT scanner was used in 1971; it took five minutes to collect a slice of data, and more than two hours to process that data into a rather low-resolution image. PET scanning using FDG started around 1976. The first commercial MR imagers appeared around 1980, after a decade or so of futzing about with technical challenges.

    The drug cisplatin wasn't approved by the FDA until 1978; it was the first discovered of a line of platinum-containing antineoplastic drugs. The drug taxol received FDA approval in late 1992. It was the first clinically-used taxane, a family of compounds which inhibit microtubule formation and thereby disrupt cell division. Rituximab was approved in 1997. It was the first anti-cancer monoclonal antibody therapy; there are now more than a dozen. Imatinib was the first small-molecule kinase inhibitor for cancer therapy, approved in 2001.

    All of the above techniques and therapies are available to *you* and in routine use today - when they haven't been superseded by even newer developments. I hate to break it to you, but this ain't your grandma's oncology.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. -- Thomas Alva Edison