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Medicine Science

Cancer Resistance Technique Moves To Human Trials 168

TaeKwonDood tips us to news that a new cancer resistance treatment is going into clinical trials after being quite successful at eradicating cancer in mice. Researchers discovered that certain white blood cells called granulocytes from cancer-immune mice were able to cure cancer in other mice. Now, doctors are putting out the call for healthy granulocyte donors in order to test how well it works on humans. The article quotes lead researcher Zheng Cui saying, "In mice, we've been able to eradicate even highly aggressive forms of malignancy with extremely large tumors. Hopefully, we will see the same results in humans. Our laboratory studies indicate that this cancer-fighting ability is even stronger in healthy humans."
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Cancer Resistance Technique Moves To Human Trials

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  • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @11:09AM (#23991079) Homepage

    This strikes me as a kind of fast-track immunization, i.e. getting the relevant antibodies into a person's immune system quickly before an infection can take hold. Rather than having to spend time developing the relevant treatment, simply borrow from another human who already has the necessary lymphocytes. Nice!

    I'm aware of the correlation between infection and various cancers - I had Hodgkins Lymphoma a few years ago myself.

    • You can do this with HIV, too, sort of. I think it's immune globulin, that (in theory) if you take fast enough after exposure it'll alert your immune system and it will clobber the virus before it infiltrates your cells. It would mostly be useful for medics and people exposed to blood.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @11:09AM (#23991083) Homepage Journal

    How do I get tested for whether I've got the granulocyte cancer immunity? I've always wanted to take up smoking. If I could sell my granulocytes, I'd afford to buy a carton of cigarettes.

  • by Icarus1919 ( 802533 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @11:13AM (#23991111)
    ...young scientists, who discover that the real cure for cancer was inside of them all along!
    • who discover that the real cure for cancer was inside of them all along!

      So it's a movie about cannibalism then?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mjwx ( 966435 )

      who discover that the real cure for cancer was inside of them all along!

      Yes, finally a reason to start carving up young scientists. Imagine all the other cures that could be found inside young scientists.

      Now where did I leave that bone saw.

  • Granulocytes, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FurtiveGlancer ( 1274746 ) <AdHocTechGuy@@@aol...com> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @11:46AM (#23991377) Journal
    The new plasma. Pay $20 bucks per donation and winos everywhere will be happy to donate, so long as they have the right granulocytes.
  • Enough (Score:2, Insightful)

    Enough of this "We found a cure! We're headed to trials!" crap. We've seen this for the past 20 years, yet NONE of these 'cures' are actually used on a daily basis. Either put up, or shut up.
    • So, if you're diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, will you restrict yourself to treatments that were available twenty years ago, then? Somehow I kind of doubt that.

    • Re:Enough (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NIckGorton ( 974753 ) * on Sunday June 29, 2008 @12:14PM (#23991621)

      Enough of this "We found a cure! We're headed to trials!" crap. We've seen this for the past 20 years, yet NONE of these 'cures' are actually used on a daily basis. Either put up, or shut up.

      OK, sure. Have a look at the Kaplan-Meier curves for survival for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in children. In the 60's your child's chance of long term cancer free survival was less than 10%. Today, your child's chance of long term cancer free survival is in the 90% range. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/06/support_cancer_research_now.php [scienceblogs.com] Orignial article: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/354/2/166 [nejm.org]

      While big leaps and bounds are great. The progress in cancer treatment and research is made through slow and consistent work at the same problem. More power to these people. But each one of these 'we're headed to trials' announcements is one grain of sand - possibly a big one - working toward grinding the machine to a halt.

    • Re:Enough (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Herger ( 48454 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:30PM (#23993129) Homepage

      In the past 20 years, we saw a number of surgical and radiologic techniques reach clinical use. When I was doing cancer research, I worked on projects using Gleevec and Zolinza, both now FDA approved. However, both of these drugs currently have very narrow uses; Gleevec is only effective against CML, for example, and Zolinza [aka vorinostat or SAHA] is currently only approved for certain types of leukemia.

      I am skeptical of anyone who says they have any 100% Cure For Cancer. As other posters have noted, cancer describes a single overall pathology, uncontrolled growth of cells, that breaks down into many subtypes based on tissue type and further based on the underlying genetic fault. Immunology, in particular, is guilty of following trends (so it's granulocytes this week, huh guys? Have you given up on Tregs, vaccines, etc.?) and pushing for the ultimate single cure.

      While it's true that cancer is a disease of the old, and it's increasingly well known that the composition of immune cells changes as you age, I suspect that someone would have noticed by now if it was as simple as transplanting granulocytes. How about a retrospective study of blood transfusion recipients? Shouldn't this population, on average, have a lower incidence of cancer relative to a comparable control population?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheLink ( 130905 )
        "How about a retrospective study of blood transfusion recipients? Shouldn't this population, on average, have a lower incidence of cancer relative to a comparable control population?"

        Not if you could get cancer from someone else along with their blood.

        Which won't be surprising since if you're getting a transfusion:
        1) You're probably not in good shape in the first place.
        2) Your immune system isn't supposed to be going "Red Alert!" and blasting away what you just got transfused with.
    • >NONE of these 'cures' are actually used on a daily basis.

      Gleevec. 89% five-year survival rate: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/355/23/2408 [nejm.org]

  • Sign me up! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fjandr ( 66656 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @12:03PM (#23991527) Homepage Journal

    Definitely glad to see this story. It's the first of a number of techniques to reach clinical trials that actually show real promise.

    I don't qualify as a patient participant as I still respond to conventional therapy. Hopefully they'll still be conducting trials if that changes, or will have expanded them to include patients who are still being treated conventionally.

    It'll definitely be interesting to see the results if they expand trials to include patients with aggressive tumors. The patient requirements, while not explicitly saying so, eliminate consideration of such patients. Once you no longer respond to therapy treating an aggressive cancer, the likelihood of having a > 6 month survival rating is basically nil (thus disqualifying you from the study). I can understand the rationale to not unnecessarily skew the initial trial results when they can get good data from patients with less aggressive cancers, but if/when the trials go after the fast killers it will definitely show the true potential of this particular cancer weapon.

    Here's to hoping for positive results. The other nice thing about this therapy is that, since it is not drug-based, it is not locked up by one single pharmaceutical company. Hooray for open source medical therapies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      This is the FIRST trial of this in humans, and there is a chance that the granulocytes will kill the recipients. We aren't mice, and the first trials are always scary.

      It's unethical to try this stuff on people who still respond to already tested therapy. If it doens't kill or harm anyone from the infusion of large numbers of WBC ... then they will expand the trials.

      It's easy to get granulocytes out, although tedious for the donor. If this works, some of the solid tumor cancers could be suddenly treatibl

      • Re:Sign me up! (Score:4, Informative)

        by Fjandr ( 66656 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @01:34PM (#23992209) Homepage Journal

        I didn't claim that it should be tested initially in people currently responding to conventional therapy. I was merely saying that I hope I am able to apply for inclusion in the trials should A) my condition change to make me eligible or B) the eligibility requirements of later trials change to include me should my condition not change.

        As for it being potentially harmful or fatal in human trials, the likelihood is much smaller than other first-run clinical trials. Granulocyte therapy is already used in humans to treat other conditions. The only differences in this regard are the targeted conditions and an increased quantity of granulocytes infused into the recipient.

        Given the nature of the treatment, the only likely adverse reaction would be an immune response. I doubt that the increased infusion amounts are going to cause more immune responses than already-established granulocyte protocols. They'll probably have a statistically indistinguishable amount of adverse reactions, but obviously establishing that conclusively is one of the points of the trial.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by budgenator ( 254554 )

        They used similar techniques for antibiotic resistant infection so the safety should be understood. Now its a matter of determining if the method's benefits out weight it's costs and risks.

      • by delt0r ( 999393 )

        It's unethical to try this stuff on people who still respond to already tested therapy.

        Who's ethicists standards are you using? Personally I think its unethical to deny treatment to willing consenting adults. If my aunt was alowed to opt for a treatment she wanted she could still be alive. Instead she had to use know treatment with the known bad side effects and its well documented ineffectiveness for the type of cancer she had.

  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @12:31PM (#23991729)

    In "Graft vs. Host" [wikipedia.org] there is a specific side-effect known as Graft-vs-Tumor. The effect has been known for some time, with the main problem being the lack of control over whether the transplanted immune cells attack both the tumor and/or the host, as GvH can result in serious or fatal reactions.

    In this case, I see the info page for the study mentions that Granulocytes are known to attack tumors without causing GvH, which appears to be the novel part of this study. Let's hope they've got a really efficient method for depleting T-cells from the mix.

  • If this works, I think it's great.

    But also interesting is what would happen to the cancer fundraising industry if all of a sudden all the newspapers' front page headline was, "Cancer Cured". My wife works at the hospital, and she sees that the amount of money that comes into the hospital from charities that raise enormous amounts of money to "fight cancer" is unbelievable. Everyone in the cancer unit gets new computers every year, has all the best equipment, etc., while the units right next to them, also

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by philspear ( 1142299 )

      Cancer is already a big umbrella funding source for research. You're researching a gene involved in embryonic bone development? Bad news: there may or may not be a "bone development association" and even if there is they're not going to give you much money to research it. Good news: there is a very good chance the gene is involved in cancer and you'll probably be able to get some money from some cancer fund.

      If people stop donating money to cancer research because it's cured, it's going to decrease fundin

    • But everyone in the cancer community (medically) are always very careful never to say that anyone is cured - rather they are in "remission". After all, if word got out that cancer wasn't the death sentence everyone thinks it is, all the money would dry up (and along with it the big budgets and high salaries).

      Or just maybe they use that term because there often are ongoing issues and a patient needs be aware of that so as to monitor their own health.

      As I understand it the life expectancy of a "successful" ca

    • by RonBurk ( 543988 )

      it's pretty close to a "cured" disease already.

      Statistically speaking, I'm afraid you will have an excellent chance in your lifetime to find out just how incorrect that statement is.

      • by RobinH ( 124750 )

        Given the choice, I'd rather be diagnosed with cancer than be in a car accident and have trauma to my head. Even though cancer is a terminal illness, there's a good chance (statistically speaking) that I could be in remission and live a long otherwise healthy life. But if you have a head injury, there's practically so little funding that your chances of getting the treatment you need to recover are slim. That's because, like a previous poster said, people will donate money to a disease that can be explai

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2008 @12:50PM (#23991869)

    People who protest against using animals for testing new drugs or therapies would be well advised to take note of how this advance relied on years of animal research. While unnecessary cruelty to animals is to be abhorred (and yes there may be times when suffering is necessary) this shows that the rewards may be significant.

    It's interesting that (much of) the scientific community and christian fundamentalists agree upon this point. It's due to the christian fundamentalists' view that God gave Man dominion over all the animals; not because of any appreciation or understanding on their part of the scientific method.

  • A better title would probably be, "Scientists test to make sure that interesting cancer treatment idea doesn't kill human subjects." This appears to be a Stage I clinical trial of an interesting idea, that is at least somewhat biologically plausible. I haven't fully reviewed the pulished data, so I don't feel comfortable saying more than that. However, most of us who work in biology and medicine would agree that our understanding of the immune system is still relatively primitive, so there may be potenti
  • "cancer-fighting ability is even stronger in healthy humans"

    If you have cancer, you are not healthy.

    • cancer-fighting ability is even stronger in healthy humans

      If you have cancer, you are not healthy.

      That's why they're taking the cancer-fighting cells from healthy humans, and transfusing them into sick humans.

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:16PM (#23993033) Homepage Journal

    I just spent 2 days reading a few articles about this general area of research in last week's New England Journal of Medicine, so let me try to explain this to my fellow /.r's who so generously explain to me about warez and the penguin.

    Doctors now believe that cancer goes through several stages before it becomes a problem. Cells become cancerous all the time, but usually the immune systen destroys them. To simplify a bit, immune cells such as dendrocytes (which is the hot immune cell these days) recognize cancer proteins. Dendrocytes take a piece of the cancer protein to a T cell, and the T cell kills the cancer cells. There's a great explanation of the immune process on Kimball's Biology Pages http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/A/AntigenPresentation.html [rcn.com], and if you take a few minutes to figure it out you'll understand one of the most amazing discoveries of the last century.

    The reason we get cancer is that sometimes that process doesn't work. All it takes is one time during your lifetime when a cancer cell "figures out" a way to evade the immune system, and the cancer takes off.

    It obviously occurs to doctors that it would be cool (and probably win a Nobel prize) if they could figure out some way to goose the immune system into fighting cancer, just the way they goose it into fighting viruses with vaccines.

    One guy who tried that was Steven Rosenberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Rosenberg [wikipedia.org] at the NIH. Rosenberg took melanoma cells from patients, and tried to stimulate the patient's immune system with a molecule called interleukin-2 that cells use to signal immune attacks. I remember reading about that around 1984, I think. The cancer slowed down but it came back. Rosenberg has been working on it ever since.

    I remember seeing a cover headline in Fortune magazine back then about Rosenberg, to the effect, "Cure for cancer." (No question mark.) Do you suppose the media hype these things?

    In order to understand cancer research, you have to understand that they can kill cancer cells in laboratory bottles, they can cure cancer in mice, but when they try to kill cancer cells in humans, time and again, it doesn't work. When it finally works in humans, that's news. The other thing you have to understand is that there are many treatments that make cancer tumors shrink or disappear for a while, but they usually come back. Cancer patients don't want the cancer to go away for 6 months -- they want it to go away forever. There are a few cancers that can sometimes be cured, like testicular cancer and childhood leukemia, and maybe some prostate cancers, but most of the time, for the big 3 (colon, breast, lung) oncologists are just trying to extend life. Of course, if you're 65 and your doctor can keep you alive for another 20 years with colon cancer or leukemia, that's not so bad. Most of the successful treatments for cancer extend the life of a cancer patient from, say, 20 months to 25 months, or 40 months to 45 months, but sometimes they get a really big jump, and for people with chronic myelogenic leukemia, imatinab (Gleevec) can extend their lives indefinitely.

    Anyway, the really big news is that somebody actually managed to get a treatment like Rosenberg's to work on a real human with melanoma, who seems to be cured after 2 years. This was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Treatment of metastatic melanoma with autologous CD4+ T cells against NY-ESO-1, Naomi Hunder et al., 358:2698 http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/358/25/2698 [nejm.org] In the past, they've gotten melanoma (and kidney cancer) to regress for a while, but it came back. This time it seems to be gone for good -- in one patient.

    Basically, they had a patient with melanoma that had spread to his lungs. He had T cells that

    • Thanks for the writeup. Very understandable without skimping on interesting details. A perfect example of why I read comments and not articles :)

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      "a lot of stuff works in mice but not in humans."

      Maybe it's because mice tend to die of cancers after 2-5 years while humans tend to die of cancers after 30-60 years.

      Those weak 2-5 year "mice style" cancers are nothing to our super human immune system.

      Now what we need is a superhuman immune system.
  • by RonBurk ( 543988 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:07PM (#23993377) Homepage Journal

    Are we making good progress on cancer? Why not look at some actual data and listen to some actual scientists? Here's a great show giving a historical overview of the trends in cancer:

    Why Me, Doc? What Scientists Know - and Don't Know - About Cancer [uwtv.org]

    And here's a somewhat discouraging outlook from the Nobel-winning head of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center here in Seattle:

    Medical Research: The Agony and The Ecstasy [uwtv.org]

    Why learn about cancer from kibitzers on slashdot, when there are great resources for technical-minded folk to learn directly from scientists?

  • I'm very happy with the advances in the cure for cancer, and I hope it helps many people lead much more fulfilling lives, if not at least longer lives.

    But still I have to wonder... we're cutting darwinism out of the system here, and not only allowing weaknesses back into the system but almost making it a strength (amping up the immune systems). What's this going to do to humanity in the long term (5,000 year range) speaking from a strictly evolutionary standpoint?
  • Everlasting Lightbulb in 3... 2... 1...

  • We've already cured cancer IN MICE 1000 times over, too bad it is still a death sentence for humans.

    I'll be impressed when people stop dropping like flies from cancer and being given a "choice" between dying from cancer or suffering with chemo (barfing and loosing hair) and then still dying of cancer.

  • ... I can envision herds of healthy young vegans, otherwise unable to earn a living, perhaps due to inadequate education, perhaps innate stupidity, perhaps cheap foreign competition, but able to get by in society by mining their granulocytes for a population of aged boomers, facilitating the generational transference of wealth ...

    ... or perhaps convicts will be tested for healthy immune systems, and serve their debt to society in a manner reminiscent of Niven's organ banks ...

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984