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Biotech Medicine Science

Training an Immune System To Kill Cancer: a Universal Strategy 201

New submitter Guppy writes "A previous story reported widely in the media, and appearing both on Slashdot and XKCD, described a novel cancer treatment, in which a patient's own T-cells were modified using an HIV-derived vector to recognize and kill leukemia cells. In a follow-up publication (PDF), a further development is described which allows for a nearly unlimited choice of target antigens, broadening the types of malignancies potentially treatable with the technique (abstract)."
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Training an Immune System To Kill Cancer: a Universal Strategy

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  • Mad science (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @09:23AM (#39273933)

    it works, biatches.

    • Yes!
      Note: In case of zombie breakout, call Jill Valentine.

    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      it works, biatches.

      I'm just picturing a news conference in my head... a man in a white lab coat, Oakley shades, and a big gold chain that says "Biochemists Do It Mitochondrially" struts out into the stage. He pulls out a microphone and shouts, "WHAT UPPPP, MEDIA BITCHES! YO WE MADE THAT BITCH ASS NIGGA CANCER OUR BITCH!"

      Then, Snoop Dogg comes out and talks about the growing biomedical field in Compton./p

      • Then, Snoop Dogg comes out and talks about the growing biomedical field in Compton./p

        What's he growing in a field in Compton for medical purposes?

  • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @09:28AM (#39273973)

    I'm not convinced.

    What if this turns man into a race of zombies? We can't count on Will Smith always being around to save us.

  • by JasoninKS ( 1783390 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @09:34AM (#39274017)
    Simply incredible stuff. Kudos to these scientists!! We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
    • I just hope that all those experimental results will also be approved. Even if the treatment is completely dependable, You know how those pharmaceuticals like to bitch..

      • I just hope that all those experimental results will also be approved. Even if the treatment is completely dependable, You know how those pharmaceuticals like to bitch..

        Your drugs are talking back to you?

        Better back off on the dose there buddy.

        • Pharmaceutical company [wikipedia.org] happy now?

        • by skids ( 119237 )

          Your drugs are talking back to you?

          Ssh. Don't give them ideas. I could entirely see a pill that talks to the user getting traction in the product development boardroom.

          But then, modding them to say "eat me" might be fun...

          Better back off on the dose there buddy.

          Yes, if you have talking pills, you should really share.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        no, they like to make money.

        The C*O of the first company to put a cancer cure on the market will be 10's, if not 100's of millions of dollars.
        Unless you propose the people at the top are so kind they would be happy to let the next CEO, or some other company make the money.

  • by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @09:34AM (#39274023)

    Anyone that has any kind of issue with this, please pack your things and get out of the civilised world. You don't deserve to live past 30 in a heated home with running water, electrical appliances and the ability to communicate with someone more than 20 feet away.

    Science, people - it's the shizzle.

    • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @09:48AM (#39274145)

      Remaining issues are

      Hasn't yet been show statistically effective to treat cancer in humans
      Hasn't yet been shown safe in humans
      Requires use of a potentially unsafe HIV variant that could mutate back to a virulent strain. Extreme care would be required to ensure that the modified virus can be contained.

      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        While I agree that it's potentially dangerous I think that it's very promising. The fact that many people are condemned to certain and painful death without this kind of treatment makes pursuing this treatment critically important. Human trials on volunteers with no hope otherwise makes sense in this case.

      • 1. Correct.
        2. Correct, though from the only tests I heard of in the past none damaged the patient in an unexpected way.
        3. Yes but that will take time and I believe even if there is a 100% chance of that happening, your future will still look brighter with the treatment rather with small cell lung cancer.

        • 2. Correct, though from the only tests I heard of in the past none damaged the patient in an unexpected way.

          Not unexpected, but at least one of the patients ended up in the ICU for a couple weeks as his body effectively fought off the most massive infection (from the immune system's point of view) a human has ever seen. You can't have 10 lbs of cancerous mass dissolve off your body in a week without there being some pretty serious repercussions to the rest of your body.

      • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @10:50AM (#39274719)

        "Requires use of a potentially unsafe HIV variant that could mutate back to a virulent strain. Extreme care would be required to ensure that the modified virus can be contained."

        Given that virulent cancer is far more dangerous than even the nastiest strains of HIV, the HIV would be pretty much always preferable. As long as they start with a strain that is easily controlled via existing drugs, I'd say we'll be fine. Heck, maybe they can dig some out of the vault that even AZT can control long-term.

        Being afraid of this treatment because it starts with HIV makes little sense. Yes, more precautions need to be taken than working with, say, E.Coli, but frankly a syringe full of HIV isn't any more dangerous than some of the drugs we use as cancer treatments. (Some chemo formulations are downright scary...)

      • Nobody's saying you should go out and get HIV if you happen to be diagnosed with Cancer. Science is all about being careful, taking detailed notes, doing tests, tests and more tests, etc. Sure, mistakes happen but that's why it's important to do as much research as possible into as much as we can.
        I only have issues with those who condemn something simply because they either don't understand it or are afraid of what it MIGHT do. Computers might one day enslave us, but does that mean we should stop using them

      • You do know... (Score:4, Informative)

        by DeadCatX2 ( 950953 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @12:46PM (#39275949) Journal

        You do know that they are not actually infecting people with HIV, right? Instead, they're extracting T-cells from a human, then reprogramming them with a modified strain of HIV, letting them replicate, and then inserting the T-cells back into the body.

        Granted, there are different problems for each type of vector that is used for modifying cells...but the whole HIV thing is pretty much overblown, from what I have read.

    • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @12:26PM (#39275671)

      William Coley, the father of immunology, cured fully metastasized cancers in the early 1900s. Look it up - Dr. William Bradford Coley. We had a cancer cure, and this article is about a similar potential cure. Coley mixed up highly individualized brews of dangerous disease organisms and shot them into cancer tumors, and trained the patient's immune system to recognize cancer cells as something to be destroyed. You want to know why we outlawed Coley's system and are just now rediscovering it?

      Because nuke shills [wikipedia.org]. That's why. Nuke shills [wordpress.com], like the fission-obsessed irrational numptys [wordpress.com] who reauthorized Price-Anderson and are unwilling to fund LENR or clean fusion research. Science is no match for politics [truth-out.org] and propaganda [austinchronicle.com] - if it was, we'd have progressed past fossil fuels and corporate nuclear fission decades ago.

      • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @02:04PM (#39276907)

        I like how vocal you are, but completely bereft of an actual point except being anti-nuke.

        You want to know why we outlawed Coley's system and are just now rediscovering it?

        Outlawed? I don't see that in anything you've cited. If you mean, rather, that it isn't FDA approved, I think you need to blame Coley himself.

        Although Coley claimed successful treatment of hundreds of patients, the absence of proven benefit or reproducibility

        A lack of reproducibility is FATAL to a scientific claim and any sort of study. You might as well claim you saw a unicorn in the forest.

        Coley's studies were not well controlled and factors such as length of treatment and fever level were not adequately documented. Many of his patients had also received radiation and sometimes surgery.

        Unless you're going to now claim the article has been surreptitiously changed by "nuke shills" to discredit him. Chances are he was on to something, but failed to appropriately document it in a way that was useful. Then, unsurprisingly, an effective solution came along and overshadowed his work.

        But you didn't post this to highlight his work. You came to scream OOGA BOOGA NUKULAR.

  • Pneumonia Wins Again (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @09:45AM (#39274113)

    If we can commercialize the treatment AT LOW COST, it will bring about a major new medical treatment industry, and it will allow millions of people to remain productive. That is the good part.

    Hopefully it doesn't make the various worldwide retirement systems go bankrupt (though some will anyway because citizens allow governments to erect Ponzi schemes).

    With fewer cancer deaths Pneumonia will take the lives of even more people, not that we will be able to do anything about that.

    In other words, we are still guaranteed to die of something.

    • Hopefully it doesn't make the various worldwide retirement systems go bankrupt (though some will anyway because citizens allow governments to erect Ponzi schemes).

      Medical evolution without making politicians and money brokers look stupid is infeasible. So yes, that will happen. But look at the bright side. Maybe political and macro economic interests won't allow such a treatment to be legalized :-)

    • "In other words, we are still guaranteed to die of something."

      Thank you mods for drawing my attention to this.  :-)
    • by Defenestrar ( 1773808 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @10:43AM (#39274657)

      Cardiopulmonary will still top the list (including your pneumonia), accidents will probably move from third to second (If you count strokes in the first category by including the vascular system). It's tough to decide if people surviving cancer will be taken out by the ticker or a bug in the lungs. A reasonable assumption will be an even distribution among remaining causes.

      Heart disease: 599,413

      Cancer: 567,628

      Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353

      Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842

      Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021

      Alzheimer's disease: 79,003

      Diabetes: 68,705

      Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692

      Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935

      Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909

      Data from the CDC [cdc.gov]

      • The interesting part of the pneumonia equation is that a great deal of any internal organ failure (other than a suddon stoppage of blood to the heart or lungs) often results in lung failure via pneumonia, as the other organ conditions cause lung problems, some of which you note above.

        This "pneumonia clue" is why doctors worldwide almost universally pick up the stethoscope to hear the lung sounds and heart sounds as an easy clue to internal organ problems.

    • Honestly, if the treatment works, and we can commercialize it at ANY (finite) cost, it will bring about a major new medical treatment industry. In 1980, there was no amount of money that could sequence the human genome in a year, and in 1995 there was no amount of money that could buy the technology in a modern cell phone. If a broad spectrum, effective cancer treatment can be shown to exist, the price -will- fall.

    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      Sure, the human lifespan is limited. But cancer doesn't always wait until you've reached advanced years to strike. Cure a five year old of lymphoma and you could reasonably have added 75 years to that person's life.
  • Does this mean we'll be able to treat HIV with HIV modified T-cells? How about a cure for the common cold? Don't get me wrong, cure cancer first. But if we can apply almost any antigen, what's stopping us from curing basically any disease? Hint: maybe my lack of knowledge in immunology.
    • You have to undergo chemo to get rid of the regular T-cells otherwise they kill your modified ones. So unless it was worth going through chemo before...

      I'm not sure about the applications for HIV, as that is a virus, not a eukaryotic cell.

  • Altering the immune system to actually cure things and fix other problems instead of treating them virtually guarantees they will lobby to stop it.

    Why do you think illegal drugs are illegal? Because RX drugs are often the same thing only controlling them protects their revenue stream.

    Why are phages all but outlawed for human use? They aren't drugs, can literally be made in a Russian basement so market entry is easy and they actually cure and prevent disease.

    There's little profit in cures for big pharma, i

  • It seems to me that for at least the last five years I have been reading about novel and allegedly very effective treatments for caner being developed in labs (gold nano particles, etc...) There have been a lot. Yet in the laboratory they stay. I realize what it takes to drag something through the FDA but why not unleash these future technologies on people facing certain death from cancer in the present? There are lots and lots after all. It would be the ultimate trial of these technologies. If I were f
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Because there is a lot to do before it even gets to the point of 'unleashing them' Also unleashing them means no controls, so it gets hard to say which worked. And then they are often target for specific cancers and so on.
      You don go "Hay, this working in this one lab under these condition, lets give it to people.

      You know what else kills cancer in the lag? heating it to 1000c. Maybe we should unleash that?

      Science generally moves at 1 baby step at a time.

  • Or in other words... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tchernobog ( 752560 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @10:27AM (#39274507)

    So (study of) HIV may make curing cancer possible.

    If it were to work, thanks to HIV for existing? If an incurable, but avoidable, illness is useful for curing an incurable, unpredictable, unavoidable and much more common one, wow!

  • If these modified HIV viruses can be changed to target different types of cancer, is there any way that athey can also be modified to be killed by some substance that isn't normally deadly to the virus but also not naturally found in the body? That way once the cancer is cured, or if the virus starts to mutate, the doctors can just introduce the kill substance? Of course, IANAB(I am not a biologist, and my last bio class was AP Bio and Genetics back in high school 7 years ago), so I could just be asking a
    • by Guppy ( 12314 )

      There are a number of inducible suicide genes (for instance, the HSV1-TK gene, inducible with Acyclovir) that have been developed for this very purpose. I believe the group at U. Penn mentioned that they would like to incorporate such a feature -- but as a long-term possibility; no such "kill switch" is being used in their current treatments.

  • The immune system kills cancer in your body every day. Free radicals [wikipedia.org] cause cell mutations (cancer) all the time in the human body. The immune system identifies the mutated cell and destroys it. Cancer happens when the immune system either doesn't catch it in time or at all and the mutated cell begins to multiply. This sounds like any other type of immunization. [wikipedia.org] The immune system is tricked into taking action against cancer cells by attaching cells it already combats to the cancer cells.
    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      Cancer is uncontrolled replication. If the body is regularly destroying the cells, it's hardly uncontrolled, is it?

    • You are close. However, this seems to be more of the immune system is tricked into taking action against cancer cells by telling it that features of cancer cells that it does not currently take note of are indicative of a foreign agent. What appears to be unique about this, as opposed to traditional methods of vaccination, is that it involves "reprogramming" the T-cells so that they are capable of attacking cells on the basis of the markers that have been chosen.
      • I didn't mean to imply the method they are using is simple. If it was cancer would have been wiped out years ago. I was pointing out the fact the immune system already does the job but people who develop cancer have immune systems that need a little help identifying the bad cells.
        • I was replying to your last sentence "The immune system is tricked into taking action against cancer cells by attaching cells it already combats to the cancer cells." My point was that instead of attaching cells the immune system already atacks to cancer cells this appears to reprogram the immune system cells so as to allow them to recognize cancer cells as "foreign", as opposed to standard immunization that "merely" cause the immune system to produce more cells which will attack a particular antigen that t
  • by Zdzicho00 ( 912806 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @11:15AM (#39274945)

    Dr Zheng Cui (Wake Forest University of Medicine in North Carolina) discovered that human innate immune system is very effective at killing a wide range of cancer cells. About 15-40% of human population is naturally cancer resistant. Granulocytes kill 97% of injected cancer cells within 24 hours.
    The most important discovery is that such cancer resistance can be transferred via simple blood transfusion. Here are some articles:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7003019.stm [bbc.co.uk]
    http://www.fightaging.org/archives/2011/12/granulocyte-infusion-therapy-spreading-into-clinics-beyond-the-us.php [fightaging.org]

    Few human patient clinical trials are in progress right now:
    http://www.bmscti.org/cancerpatients.htm [bmscti.org]
    http://liftcancertreatmenttrial.com/scientific-background/previous-studies-in-humans [liftcancer...ttrial.com]
    http://www.novacellsinstitute.com/ [novacellsinstitute.com]

    And there are some exciting news about patients with 'cancer in full remission':
    http://www.novacellsinstitute.com/articles/Beating%20Cancer%20-%20New%20Form%20of%20Immune%20Therapy%20is%20Working%20-%20for%20NOVA%20CELLS%20website.pdf [novacellsinstitute.com]

    • You appear to be under the impression that T-cells are not part of the innate human immune system. This is based, at least on part, on research such as that which you reference in your links.
  • The viral vectors are based on replication-deficient HIV. They are missing some of the genes necessary for their replication. They cannot (or at least should not) be able to reproduce in the cells, so they are not giving people AIDS. One of the reasons HIV is used because it is a lentivirus, which means it can integrate into the genomes of cells that are not actively dividing.
    • So many posts are all worried about giving people HIV. It's good to see someone knows what they're talking about.

      Not only is the HIV replication-deficient, but it's not even given to the people. They extract the T-cells, reprogram them outside of the human body with the modified HIV, then put the modified T-cells back into a human. This should allow them to double-check whether the modified T-cells are safe before inserting them back into a patient.

      Wiki has a good article on various viral vectors. http: [wikipedia.org]

  • by blueforce ( 192332 ) <clannagael.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @02:15PM (#39277027) Homepage Journal

    I realize this is cynical but...

    According to the WHO ~7.6 million people die of cancer each year: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/ [who.int] and according to the National Cancer Institute ~1.6 million of them are Americans: http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/all.html [cancer.gov]

    That's a huge revenue stream for the drug companies to just ignore because "hey, it's cured!" I just don't think the drug companies won't start looking for ways to kill this or put it out of reach of most people. They haven't exactly proven to be altruistic and wholly forthcoming thus far; they're just for-profit companies in the same old "corrupt American capitalist" system.

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