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Biotech Science

The Cure for Cancer Might be: HIV 668

RGautier writes "Wired News has published that Scientists have successfully modified the AIDS-causing HIV in such a way that it can attack metasticized melanoma (cancer cells). The impact of genetic research on cancer research is in and of itself amazing. To mix this with the strategy of using one strong enemy against another is brilliance! Research will continue, obviously, but they are already reporting success on living creatures." Just think: between HIV and carrots we'll be all set.
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The Cure for Cancer Might be: HIV

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  • Re:battlefield (Score:1, Informative)

    by i ( 8254 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:33PM (#11669081)
    They are already.
    The bacterias in our bodies outnumber the body cells.
  • Nothing new really (Score:5, Informative)

    by FiReaNGeL ( 312636 ) <fireang3l@hGAUSS ... m minus math_god> on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:35PM (#11669117) Homepage
    Gene therapy use lentivirus-based (HIV) vectors for quite some time now; it's nothing new really; a marketing team found the 'Cure Cancer with HIV!' twist interesting I guess.

    When pseudotyped with the right envelope, these virus can infect efficiently any type of cell. They can also transduce non-dividing cells, which is usefull. They lack almost every gene of HIV; they retain certain structures which allow packaging of the genome in the virus and the viral promoter, but that's about it. Viruses are packaged in special cell lines containing the viral components on plasmids most of the time, and preparations are tested for recombinants. Its the best technology out there, but its nothing new, really.
  • by JoeBuck ( 7947 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:39PM (#11669163) Homepage
    Unlike "normal" viruses, retroviruses actually rewrite the DNA of the cells they infect. Perhaps some day you could be cured of a genetic defect by having a retrovirus rewrite the bad gene in every cell of your body, or at least enough cells to cure the disease.

    On the other hand, HIV mutates very rapidly, so attempts to control the cure, say, by having it die off when there are no more defective genes to rewrite might well fail (as any viruses that mutate in a way to work around the die-off mechanism would reproduce rapidly).

  • Brilliance? (Score:5, Informative)

    by aprilsound ( 412645 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:40PM (#11669169) Homepage
    To mix this with the strategy of using one strong enemy against another is brilliance!
    As others have said, it sounds potentialy dangerous (mutation et al), but the idea of using something bad to treat something else bad is by no means innovative. A few examples:

    chemotherapy - is just poison. it works because the cancer cells absorb the poison much quicker than normal cells.

    radiation therapy - again, radiation by itself is bad.

    most over the counter acne treatments - are just some form or acid that kills the bacteria on the skin
    As for reengineering a virus to take on something else, while facinating, its hardly a new idea. If you are interested in this sort of thing and haven't read Orson Scott Card's Xenocide [] (part of the Ender Series), you might check it out.

  • Mis-titled article (Score:5, Informative)

    by rpdillon ( 715137 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:41PM (#11669185) Homepage
    I'm not too much in the know about bio-tech, but it seems that this HIV-transport-for-another-virus doesn't actually attack the cancer:

    The researchers programmed the altered virus package to attack a protein on the cancer cell surface called p-glycoprotein, which causes problems in cancer patients by shuttling cancer drugs away from the cell. In other words, p-glycoprotein causes resistance to cancer medication. Scientists could customize the system to target any protein on the surface of a cell, Chen said. He and his colleagues have seen success with about a dozen different molecules, including brain and other blood cells, he said.

    Except for the last sentence, it makes it seem as though this is only a way to pave the way for more conventional treatments. The last sentence doesn't make sense to me, given the context. I can understand how the proteins on the surface of a cell could qualify as "molecules", but then the structure of the sentence makes it seem like they're calling brain and blood cells molecules:

    He and his colleagues have seen success with about a dozen different molecules, including brain and other blood cells, he said.

    I'm still waiting for a virus that attacks the actual cancer cells. I remember hearing something about it a while back, but then it seemed to die off. Anyone been following it?

  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:44PM (#11669225) Homepage Journal
    The summary of the article (and many of the comments) would have you believe this is a potential "cure for cancer".

    Melanoma is a subset of the set of all cancers - specifically, it is a form of skin cancer - more specifically, it is a cancer formed from the skin cells that give skin its pigmentation.

    Melanoma is NOT *all cancers* - thus even if this modified virus will kill 100% of all melanomas and have 0% harmful side-effects this does NOT make it a "cure for cancer" - merely a "cure for a type of cancer".

    The will need to generalize this virus to attack ALL cancerous cells, and NOT to attack any other cells.

    Now, if you can work out how a virus can tell the difference between a cancerous cell and a normal but rapidly reproducing cell, you have a Nobel prize awaiting.
  • by adeydas ( 837049 ) <`adeydas' `at' `'> on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:44PM (#11669228) Homepage Journal
    80% of the virus has been completely removed and it is just now a carrier. Besides it has got a sindbis cloak that affect only insects and birds, so I believe that the person vaccinated wouldn't contract HIV. Ofcourse there are chances of mutations but when the virus is so weak, its like 0.001%.
  • Re:Amazing! (Score:2, Informative)

    by RpiMatty ( 834853 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:47PM (#11669260)
    Its called FIV not feline HIV. the H stands for human, and the F stands for feline.
    And there is no way to cross infect a cat with HIV or a human with FIV
  • by amerinese ( 685318 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:49PM (#11669286)
    You're mistaken =). Some gene therapies use viruses as vectors, but of course that's rare as hell. Vaccines use weakened or disabled ("dead" if you consider the virus to have ever been alive in the first place) forms of a virus to get your immune system to produce antibodies that will also work next time around when you are exposed to the real thing. This works because your body can sit around and make antibodies without having the virus reproducing rapidly and generally causing havok. When you're exposed to the virus for real, your body already has figured out how to recognize the virus and has a stock of antibodies it can immediately use on it.

    Using a virus as a vector refers to inserting a payload into the viral sequence (the desired DNA or RNA), which then gets inserted into the cell's genetic sequence as the virus inserts itself.

    So basically I think there's quite a confusion here. I mean, it sounds like we're using one enemy to fight another, but if we can figure out how to get HIV to fight cancer, this new HIV won't go out there and suddenly turn regular HIV into good HIV that kills cancer. In fact, I don't know if it's such a good idea to use one enemy to fight another besides the fact that it sounds ironic. I would've thought that HIV would be one of the worst candidates with its fast mutational rate and ability to attack T-cells making it extremely dangerous. Obviously though, there must be some properties of HIV that make it a good vector in this case.

  • by TGK ( 262438 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:51PM (#11669308) Homepage Journal
    A high dose of AZT following a possible HIV infection has been shown to dramaticly decrease the risk of infection. I work with children with cancer and/or HIV on a volunteer basis and we keep a fair bit of the stuff around for just that reason.

    That said, HIV isn't terribly dangerous to work with. Admittedly it's hella scary, but given that the bug isn't airborn and that we can ameliorate any infection with a huge dose of AZT those working with patients have little to fear.

  • old Russian idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @01:57PM (#11669373)
    Not exactly HIV, but some European scientists, particularly in the eastern block have been promoting the use of "phages", or general viruses for all kinds of things like killing bacteria and cancer. This idea was somewhat popular before the distillation of antibiotics in the 1930s, then retreated to the backwaters. Its been reviving as more bacteria develop resistance to all of the antibiotics.
  • Re:Check you facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by TGK ( 262438 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:00PM (#11669413) Homepage Journal
    Check your own....

    Generaly the virus used is the Herpes Simplex A virus due to the ease of genetic packaging.

    That said, no virus can be engineered to just attack cancer cells. Cancer cells are identical to non-cancerous cells in nearly all respects. The difference isn't in what they "look like" but what they do. Cancer cells do not (generaly) preform the task that their non-cancerous counterparts preform and instead divide rapidly.

    So the way you target cancer is targeting dividing cells. Since cancer cells divide more rapidly than non-cancerous cells they die off in higher numbers. Lather, rise, repeat. Eventualy you're out of cancer cells.

    The problem is that radiation and chemo make the patient very sick, and the dehydration effects tend to leave them weakened and unable to continue treatment. Chemo and Radiation thus become a balance between killing the cancer and killing the patient.

    A virus could be different because unlike the injestion of poison (Chemo) or exposure to Radiation, the body does not generaly react to viral infection with vomiting and other nasty side affects.

    The result is that you can get more cancer killing power per unit of patient killing power. This in turn translates to a higher cure rate for cancers.

    This is why stem cells are so interesting for curing cancers. Got a brain tumor? Great.... we'll zap the shit out of it and toss in some stem cells... in a few days you'll have regenerated the brain tissue and you'll be good as new. That's science fiction today, but it's well within the realm of possibility in a few years.

  • Re:Mabye (Score:2, Informative)

    by uberjoe ( 726765 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:06PM (#11669491)
    HIV = Human Immonodeficiency Virus

    AIDS = Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

    HIV destroys your immune system and thereby causes AIDS. AIDS does not kill you. You die of complications due to AIDS, usually by catching a disease which is not fatal to a healthy person (cold, pnunomia), but because of your ravaged immune system is fatal to you.

  • by MSBob ( 307239 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:11PM (#11669562)
    This is very good news indeed as melanoma is a very difficult cancer to get rid of.

    Unfortunately a fellow geek has a case. Check out his weblog here [].

    Basically make sure you get all suspicious looking moles checked by your doctor before it's too late. Melanoma is only life threatening when it spreads beyond the initial site.

  • by bshroyer ( 21524 ) <bret&bretshroyer,org> on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:20PM (#11669678)
    At least, that's what the initial results of the studies show.

    The human reovirus [] has shown dramatic promise in early oncolytic trials. Some great pictures can be seen here [].

    The virus itself is non-pathogenic, lives in the bowels and lungs, and it's believed that most adult humans have been exposed to it during their lifetimes. Contrast this with HIV...

    I've been watching this technology for a couple of years now it's slow going to get through clinical trials, but there's good evidence that reovirus may be able to treat 2/3 of all cancer out there [], with little or no adverse side effects. Where it is not 100% effective, and radiation therapy is also prescribed, reovirus has been shown to be a good radiosensitizer.

    Aside from reovirus, we're hearing more and more stories like this [] every year. I have a strong feeling that we'll have a cure for 90% of all cancer within the decade.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:21PM (#11669701) Journal
    Genetically modified cells and viruses often mutate. scientists aren't certain, but they suspect that modification produces a less stable genetic code.

    In the case of HIV, the virus is ALREADY extremely mutation-prone. If I remember correctly, the reverse transcriptase enzyme (the one that makes the initial-infection copy) averages more than one error per copy.

    The virus compensates for this by having TWO copies of its genome - not so much for error correction as to have a significant chance of having a working version of each enzyme when it has infected a cell. (This also lets it form hybrids when two different versions infect the same cell.)

    The result is that it actually evolves resistance to the antibodies the body throws at it during the course of the infection. And also that the infection is slow - but eventually overwhelms the immune system with a mob attack of divergent versions of the virus. A typical late-stage patient may have three or more viable variant populations, each capable of infecting other people.

    If they ARE using pieces of the AIDS virus in their construct, I certainly hope one of the changes they made is replacing this error-prone enzyme with a more accurate one from another virus.
  • Re:battlefield (Score:3, Informative)

    by n1ywb ( 555767 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:25PM (#11669748) Homepage Journal
    That's bullshit.
  • by zymurgyboy ( 532799 ) <zymurgyboy&yahoo,com> on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:29PM (#11669809)
    This isn't using the virus in the same a way a vaccine does, which is to ilicit a response to unmodified, killed virus by your immune system.

    This genes that cause immunosuppression in unmodified HIV have been removed in this case and replaced with something else that sepcifically targets the cancer cells themselves irrespective of your natural immune reponse.

    When they prefect the "targeting" bit with cell receptor proteins, I'm wondering what the next step will be. Maybe have the vector modify the genes in the cancer cell to stop producing the homones that cause unrestricted tumor growth? Or perhaps hijack the cancer cell to produce something like the chemicals used in a chemotherapy regimin within your own body; perhaps in smaller, less toxic doses that naturally taper down as the cancer cell count abates? Who knows?

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:35PM (#11669883) Journal
    If they ARE using pieces of the AIDS virus in their construct, I certainly hope one of the changes they made is replacing this error-prone enzyme with a more accurate one from another virus.

    Should have RTFAed. It sounds like they are using the transcriptase in question, errors and all, but left out the genes for the rest of the virus - assembling the surface from parts made elsewhere. So the thing doesn't have the mechansim to reproduce - just the mechanism to install the payload genes.
  • by JohnnyCannuk ( 19863 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @02:37PM (#11669905)
    While I share your admiration, working with HIV is actually not all that dangerous to work with in a lab. HIV is, I believe (and I'm sure someone will correct me), a Level 2 Pathogen since it cannot live outside its host and requires direct exchange of bodyfluids to be transmitted. It's deadly, but not particularly virulent and has a long incubation period. HIV needs some extra procedures for handling and washing up, but thats it.

    Contrast with everyone's favorite Level 4 pathogen Ebola Zaire. Ebola Zaire can be caught through casual contact with an infected person or something they have touched (Ebola Reston is actually airborn, but only affects monkeys). It has a very short inclubation period and kills 90% of its victims, in about 10 days. This one is very virulent. Ebola Zaire needs an airtight, negative presure room and a person in a space suit to work with it.

    I do like the creativiity of understanding the mechanism of one "enemy" to use against another....Sun Tzu would be proud...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 14, 2005 @03:05PM (#11670263)
    That seems pretty unlikely, because AZT is pretty damn toxic. You wouldn't want to take it just as a precaution. It is true that health care workers who've been exposed (e.g. needle prick from an HIV patient) go on a short-term drug cocktail intended to weaken the virus enough for their immune systems to handle it before it gains a foothold.

    Quite right, AZT is used to prevent infection following a high-risk event (usually meaning an injury from an HIV contaminated needle, or HIV infected blood spray into eyes or mouth).

    It is certainly not given routinely as a preventative measure.

    Nor is it given alone. It is typically given in conjunction with 2 other drugs, most commonly lamivudine and indinavir (although there are several other regimens). The 'post-exposure prophylaxis' course is usually 1 month, with treatment to be started as soon as possible after contamination - in any event, this should be within 1 hour of the injury occurring.

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @03:53PM (#11670891)
    At least one case? hahaha, ALL flu comes from overseas chickens which has jumped to humans who spread it to other humans, EVERY YEAR. And tens of thousands die from this, EVERY YEAR. *yawn*
  • by caino59 ( 313096 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @04:00PM (#11670963) Homepage
    too late - there's already new strains [] running around...
  • by TGK ( 262438 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @04:35PM (#11671337) Homepage Journal
    It was someone she knew personaly.... an older sister I think (imagine being her parrents... I don't know how they dealt with it).

    As a cancer survivor myself, I know where you're coming from. Though... I can see why they wouldn't want a leukemia patient giving blood/marrow!

    I'm trying to think of a cancer that isn't in the marrow by default but can show up there easily short of matastization and I'm coming up blank. What did you have?

  • by quetzalc0atl ( 722663 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @06:06PM (#11672337) m/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nm1192.html []

    Lentiviral vector retargeting to P-glycoprotein on metastatic melanoma through intravenous injection

    Kouki Morizono1, 2, Yiming Xie1, 2, Gene-Errol Ringpis1, 2, Mai Johnson3, Hoorig Nassanian1, Benhur Lee1, 4, Lily Wu3 & Irvin S Y Chen1, 2, 5

    1 Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, University of California, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.
    2 UCLA AIDS Institute, University of California, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.
    3 Department of Urology, University of California, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.
    4 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.
    5 Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.

    Correspondence should be addressed to Irvin S Y Chen

    Targeted gene transduction to specific tissues and organs through intravenous injection would be the ultimate preferred method of gene delivery. Here, we report successful targeting in a living animal through intravenous injection of a lentiviral vector pseudotyped with a modified chimeric Sindbis virus envelope (termed m168). m168 pseudotypes have high titer and high targeting specificity and, unlike other retroviral pseudotypes, have low nonspecific infectivity in liver and spleen. A mouse cancer model of metastatic melanoma was used to test intravenous targeting with m168. Human P-glycoprotein was ectopically expressed on the surface of melanoma cells and targeted by the m168 pseudotyped lentiviral vector conjugated with antibody specific for P-glycoprotein. m168 pseudotypes successfully targeted metastatic melanoma cells growing in the lung after systemic administration by tail vein injection. Further development of this targeting technology should result in applications not only for cancers but also for genetic, infectious and immune diseases.
  • by InfiniteWisdom ( 530090 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @06:20PM (#11672489) Homepage
    The word nuclear comes from the same place in both cases... a nuclear reaction happens in the nucleus of an atom and NMR is magnetic resonance with the nucleus. The problem, like the grandparent said is that people are terrified of the word nuclear and will raise a ruckus without even bothering to understand what its all about.

  • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Monday February 14, 2005 @07:21PM (#11673033) Homepage Journal
    And if you'd bother to RTFA you'd see that the current approach focuses on using the Sindbis virus for delivery. Sindbis itself is not a full cure - it attacks cancer cells but is by no means guaranteed to be sufficient to destroy a tumour. That is why researchers are now looking at using it for delivering other "payloads" that are more lethal to the cancer cells. Many of these would toxic to normal substancs in the body, but using Sindbis allows focused delivery, potentially massively reducing the damage to the body.
  • Re:Excercise (Score:3, Informative)

    by idono ( 858850 ) on Monday February 14, 2005 @08:47PM (#11673735)
    You could've saved yourself a few bucks... Stepmania []

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."