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Cancer Cured By HIV 521

bluefoxlucid writes "Apparently cancer has been cured, by injecting people with HIV. From the article: 'As the white cells killed the cancer cells, the patients experienced the fevers and aches and pains that one would expect when the body is fighting off an infection, but beyond that the side effects have been minimal.' Nifty. Poorly edited run-on sentence, but nifty."
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Cancer Cured By HIV

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:17AM (#37056930) Journal
    Two fairly important adjectives that were for some reason omitted from the summary are listed in the article:

    In the Penn experiment, the researchers removed certain types of white blood cells that the body uses to fight disease from the patients. Using a modified, harmless version of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, they inserted a series of genes into the white blood cells. These were designed to make to cells target and kill the cancer cells. After growing a large batch of the genetically engineered white blood cells, the doctors injected them back into the patients.

    Emphasis mine. The summary almost makes it sound like the researchers just used HIV as we know it ... it's almost humorous to think that a doctor might say "The treatment was a success, you no longer have cancer ... but ..." "BUT WHAT?" "Well, we sorta had to inject you with the HIV in order to take care of it." Obviously this is not the case.

  • by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:28AM (#37057116)

    Furthermore, they did not inject the HIV, they injected previously removed white blood cells modified by HIV.

  • by kvvbassboy ( 2010962 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:31AM (#37057168)
    And for one of them, it only removed 70% of the cancerous tissues. This is hardly a significant number to confirm the efficacy of the treatment. Also from TFA:

    "Both the National Cancer Institute and several pharmaceutical companies declined to pay for the research. Neither applicants nor funders discuss the reasons an application is turned down. But good guesses are the general shortage of funds and the concept tried in this experiment was too novel and, thus, too risky for consideration."

    Both the guesses as BS, considering the impact that this treatment could result in. I get the feeling that the article is hiding certain aspects of the treatment that may put it in a negative light.

  • by arkhan_jg ( 618674 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:45AM (#37057398)

    It wasn't even denatured HIV that treated them; they used it as gene therapy to modify white blood cells to make them specifically target the lukemia cancer, and added a gene to make the white blood cells multiply like crazy. It was these 'killer' reprogrammed white blood cells that were injected, and went onto multiply heavily and attack the cancerous cells.

    Gene therapies like this, using white blood cells to attack cancer have been tried before, but they only killed a small amount of cancerous cells before dying off. The new approach here is using modified HIV as the carrier, and also including a replicator gene to make the white blood cells much more effective.

    That said; this is only 3 patients. We don't know how scalable this approach will be to other patients, whether it will be generally effective, and whether it actually kills the cancer or only slows it down. Presumably the same approach could be used to target other cancers, but even if it only hits this common form of leukemia, it's still a massive step forward IFF it's scalable and effective, compared to other treatments such as radiation and chemo.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:21PM (#37058002)

    Better article:

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:43PM (#37058402) Homepage Journal
    I am an expert on this. The HIV was used as a transport mechanism to modify the DNA of the white blood cells. It's identical to using a computer virus to deliver a kernel patch instead of self-replicating code. Retroviral engineering is extremely common in biology. The critical point is that the virus has had all of its self-replicating machinery removed in advance. No HIV genes were transferred into the white blood cells; only a payload designed by the researchers.

    Please, for the love of all that is holy, tell all your friends. Especially if you're friends with Taco. The amount of ignorance on Slashdot about biological concepts that are directly analogous to computer concepts is staggering.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:46PM (#37058468) Homepage

    Actually, if you read the article, it's pretty clear that while this particular experiment was leukemia based the theory should work on nearly any cancer. Basically, they used a modified HIV virus as a carrier to modify the DNA of some of the patients white blood cells (outside of the body). The modified cells are made to specifically target the cancer in question (and replicate, a lot). If trials continue to be successful, there is no reason to think that the "signature" of any cancer couldn't be substituted for the leukemia.

    Incorrect. It may work on a significant fraction of some cancers (especially leukemias, cancers of the blood) but it is unlikely to be a generic cure [] of most or all cancers. (TL;DR of the link which is annoying technical - it's a cool new twist on a general class of cancer fighting strategies that up until now have had limited success. It may well prove to be useful, but it is in the very, very early stages of research and there are some reasons why this general class of treatment would be expected not to work on many different cancers.)

    And kudos to MSNBC for actually providing a link to the original literature.

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @12:49PM (#37058534) Homepage Journal
    Biological viruses are very much like old-school computer viruses in that they have two parts:

    1. inject code (genes) into programs (cells)
    2. get executed by system (cells) and create copy of self that can infect more programs/cells.

    In genetic engineering, using viruses as a transport mechanism is extremely common, because they're often easier to alter than affecting cells directly. They have far simpler internal states. In the case of this experiment, HIV was just used as a carrier for a genetic construct (a bunch of code) designed by the researchers. Absolutely no HIV DNA was transferred, and so there's absolutely no risk of HIV infection: after the viral DNA is inserted into the cell, you just get an empty, lifeless capsule made out of inert protein polymers. Using HIV happened to be desirable because its machinery is very good at infecting.
  • by ekgringo ( 693136 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @01:09PM (#37058886)
    It's not really that simple. There are many strains of HIV and it is generally advisable to avoid exposure to other strains if you are already HIV+. Treating one strain may be manageable, but when you have multiple strains, there are fewer treatment options and the ones that exist are less effective.
  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @01:35PM (#37059290) Homepage Journal
    That's actually a misrepresentation in the MSNBC article. I've pored over the original paper a little bit more now, and actually the researchers didn't add anything specific to trigger multiplication. Also, they weren't macrophages, which is what most people think of when they hear 'white blood cells'—they were T cells. T cells target one specific molecule, and if they find that molecule, then the body tells that T cell to reproduce. The thousand-fold growth was actually the body's way of saying "hey, I found an infection!" and dealing with it normally. The levels subsided on their own after the cancer was gone, as with any manageable disease.

    T cell receptors (the things that stick out of T cells which allow them to detect their prey) are incredible biologically because the body makes them up at semi-random when generating new T cells; it does the same for antibodies. However, we only have so many building blocks to choose from when making them, and the receptors we need to target leukaemia aren't possible. It's conceivable that a random mutation could allow someone to develop a resistance to cancer naturally, but that could potentially come at the cost of effective protection against many other diseases.
  • by What'sInAName ( 115383 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @02:14PM (#37059806) Homepage Journal

    From 2005: []

    I thought the subject of this story sounded familiar. Seems like they've made progress! Let's hope it stands up to further studies. Many, many promising treatments turn out to be fools' gold.

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @02:49PM (#37060260) Homepage Journal
    Here's part of your answer. [] There are only about twenty-five million possible naturally-occurring receptors. The other part of your answer lies squarely in the journal article's abstract: the antigen targeted naturally occurs in a subset of the body's B cells, and they ended up killing those off in the process of defeating the cancer.
  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @05:55PM (#37062846) Homepage Journal
    That's the idea. As it so happens, I dug up more of the article, and it looks like their custom receptor targets the kind of B cell that mutates into a diseased state in this particular form of leukaemia. In essence, they're skipping the check against the whitelist that's supposed to prevent these receptors from reaching maturity. The patients actually lost all of those B cells as a result, but by programming their custom T cells with a means of triggering self-destruction, they could easily reintroduce a healthy population. Et voilà—everything back to normal.

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