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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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:32AM (#45632209)

    I think it is a bit premature to consider his cancer has been "killed" but good luck to him and good luck to the researchers with their Slashverisment.

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:54AM (#45632283)

    California Stem Cell, Inc. has been doing a similar project since about 2005 in training white blood cells of a patient to recognize malignant melanoma cells out side the body, growing large numbers of those white blood cells and then reinjecting them back into the patient. To date they have achieved some very high remission/cure rates. They have FDA clearance pending but not yet issued. The process was originally developed by doctors at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, CA as I recall from a speach.

  • by John_Yossarian (1160273) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:21AM (#45632433)

    My wife was part of a stage 3 melanoma study for the drug Ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy), an immunotherapy drug that inhibits the signal mechanism used by the immune system to turn off an attack. So any metastatic cells floating around her body would not be able to masquerade as normal cells by flying the right protein flag. Unfortunately, halfway through the trial she had a major reaction that caused brain swelling, requiring her to be hospitalized twice. Fortunately, she survived the side effects and the oncologist believes she had enough of the juice to get most of the benefit. Without the drug, we were looking at 50% survival rate for 5 years. The study is still in progress, so no idea how Ipilimumab will improve the odds.

    There is research out there claiming green tea, spices like tumeric, and just eating better can have dramatic results. I would like to see some serious research by respected oncologists into the efficacy of simple life changes like that, instead of study after study pushing big pharma's insanely expensive drugs (thankfully covered by the trial in our case) that cause side effects potentially more dangerous than the disease they are intended to treat.

    I don't know if reprogramming T-Cells like in TFA is more or less dangerous than conventional immunotherapy. Cancer makes people desperate enough to take some pretty big treatment risks. I certainly appreciate the fact that oncologists are aggressive in their mission to save lives, but I wish we had more non-fringe research into potentially good treatments that were also cheap and safe.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @10:50AM (#45632583)

    Ridiculous. All one pharmaco has to do is say "We've got the cure!" and everyone will come to them, cash in hand.


    Excuse me while I don't hold my breath for federal approval on these trials that have been going on for years now.

    And fat chance of your insurance provider covering it. That was my main point. Even if there are cures, few can ever afford them, which is the wrong way to go about providing a cure for the masses. What you want to casually call "everyone" with "cash in hand" is realistically the 1% in society who can fucking afford it.

    One doesn't have to read between the lines too hard to understand why cures will not be covered either, which speaks to my other point about ensuring profits. They have investors and boards to answer to as well. Don't be blindly ignorant. It's a business, just like any other.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @11:31AM (#45632783)

    Cures are not perpetually profitable. Only treatments are.

    Well that's a particularly cretinous argument. Purely from a profit perspective which is better for doctors, hospitals, "big pharma" and insurers - a dead kid or someone who is cured and goes on to live another 70 years, requiring all kinds of medical interventions during that time not just for himself but for any children he may have?

    You seem to be overlooking the dark hole that no one wants to acknowledge when it comes to keeping humans alive for a very long time.

    Resource management is a job of every government, including yours. We only have a finite amount of resources on this earth, and a happily cured, ever-growing population of 10 billion+ in another decade will not help that in any way.

    I'm certain that with the advances in sheer human ingenuity, we'll be able to figure out a way to live 150 years or more. It's a shame that the practice will be deemed illegal, and in many ways today, it already is (stem-cell research, cloning, etc.)

    Argue that all you want. You'll find it rather hard when numbers don't bend. Math is a bitch, as is the reality we face today.

    Or we could just keep on growing at an insane rate as a healthy cured population, make all unhealthy things illegal, and in another 30 years, we'll go full-on Soylent Green for our source of food. Have fun with that.

    Realize that I'm not a cretin. I'm a realist who isn't ignorant as to who the real cretins are.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:03PM (#45633015)

    Thank you for that. Some people definitely need to get their heads out, the nineteenth century.

    I'm currently in chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the treatments have significantly improved just in the past few years. I'm getting a chemo regimen that was just described in an April 2013 paper as superior in all ways to the previous favorite - better results, fewer side effects. Things are definitely getting better, and the techniques being used are truly amazing. My chemo has gone pretty well, with some side effects, but I'm hopeful that I'll be in remission by summer.

    The treatment described in TFA sounds really promising. If I do relapse, I have some hope that they could adapt this to my lymphoma in the future.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rjh (40933) <> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:04PM (#45633023)

    Thank you for being a physician. Seriously. It's appreciated.

    (-- would've been dead in the '90s except for someone like you)

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:18PM (#45633113)
    Some people have an evolutionary resistance to cancer in the way their killer t-cells target it more aggressively. Others contract the HIV virus and never get AIDS, and there has been interesting speculation folks with these immunities may be descended from plague survivors from centuries ago. If this immunity can be taught to a cancer-ridden patient's own immune system, essentially someone with no other options, its side effects can then be carefully studied. I would look carefully at autoimmune disorders first.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:42PM (#45633235) Journal
    It's also worth noting (not that it means that kiddo is necessary not doomed; but just as a general thing) that culling abnormal cells is something that the immune system does quite regularly. It doesn't always do it well enough; which is when you get to have a chat with the oncologist, but this isn't some fundamentally artificial capability that fades as soon as treatment stops.

    If he has a cancer cell population that punched through the various safeguards and reached clinically relevant levels once, his odds are probably worse; but holding the line against some modest population of dangerously aberrant cells isn't a terribly abnormal condition.
  • by rnturn (11092) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:33PM (#45633431)

    A very close friend was supposed to go through this treatment almost two years ago. Unfortunately for him, you need to be is pretty good shape before this is begun and his cancer was spreading to various places in his body and he was never quite to the point where the doctors felt he could tolerate a new form of treatment. All I could think of was that the oncologists were stuck in a deadly game of whackamole; hit that place where the cancer was discovered and it popped up somewhere else. When the cancer spread to his brain, it was all over. By then his estimated of survival was, maybe, six weeks and he lasted less than a week after the discovery of it having gotten into the brain. Maybe if the original "We got it in time, there's nothing in the lymph nodes"[*] had been followed up with this treatment he'd still be around. When it was discovered to have returned it was probably already too late.

    [*] -- The cancer that was discovered a couple of years ago was found to be the same one that he'd had surgery/chemo for years earlier. My feeling is that `clean' lymph nodes are probably a false hope. What evidence is there that cancer always leaves a trace in the lymph nodes anyway?

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

    by transporter_ii (986545) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:42PM (#45633453) Homepage

    there is no one single disease, "cancer."

    Scientists are in "complete surprise" that cancers closely resemble each other across widely varying organs, according to Dr. Douglas Levine of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the principal investigator on a new endometrial cancer study published Wednesday in the journal, Nature.

    "The problem," leading to existing drug treatments performing at an unsatisfactory 10% death rate, was in "the traditional methods for categorizing the leukemia," said Dr. Timothy Ley of Washington University in St. Louis, who co-led a study simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

    "Cancer of the uterine lining closely resembles the worst ovarian and breast cancers... telling evidence that cancer will increasingly be seen as a disease defined primarily by its genetic fingerprint rather than just by the organ where it originated," says The New York Times' interpretation of these results.

  • Re:Cancer cured! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by transporter_ii (986545) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:51PM (#45633509) Homepage

    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"

    This guy was on to something good. When he was farting around in the lab, he got funding. When he started to get results, the funding vanished. I love his statement in bold below: []

    So how did you get it funded up to this point?

    There is some private funding and the university put some funding into it. And also, at early stages when we studied the mechanisms of these mice, we had one Mitchell Cancer Institute grant, several small grants from Cancer Research Institute. But they all stopped funding me. It was kind of a strange situation. I thought it was our common goal to come up with a new weapon to fight cancer, but the moment I announced I had a new weapon to test in real human cancer situations, everybody shied away.

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? -- Woody Allen