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Medicine Science

Drug Turns Immune System Against All Tumor Types 330

sciencehabit writes, quoting an article in Science: "A single drug can shrink or cure human breast, ovary, colon, bladder, brain, liver, and prostate tumors that have been transplanted into mice, researchers have found. The treatment, an antibody that blocks a 'do not eat' signal normally displayed on tumor cells, coaxes the immune system to destroy the cancer cells." The abstract and full paper are freely available. It seems fairly promising: "In mice given human bladder cancer tumors, for example, 10 of 10 untreated mice had cancer that spread to their lymph nodes. Only one of 10 mice treated with anti-CD47 had a lymph node with signs of cancer. Moreover, the implanted tumor often got smaller after treatment — colon cancers transplanted into the mice shrank to less than one-third of their original size, on average. And in five mice with breast cancer tumors, anti-CD47 eliminated all signs of the cancer cells, and the animals remained cancer-free 4 months after the treatment stopped."
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Drug Turns Immune System Against All Tumor Types

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  • Re:But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TeXMaster ( 593524 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:40AM (#39482073)
    Same perplexity I have. What if the good results are linked to the host being a mouse, and in humans the same treatment would end up becoming some kind of auto-immune disease instead?
  • Re:Won't happen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:59AM (#39482129)

    It won't fly, as antibodies are cheap and not complicated to do

    What does cost to produce have to do with price, other than to set a minimum? Besides, you can get generic painkillers for 12p a box here in the UK, or you can buy the name brand stuff for £3.50; the two co-exist just fine. (Though I wonder who on earth buys the name-brand stuff...)

    They'll do something to stop this treatment in its tracks. They always do.

    Links or it didn't happen.

  • by Aryden ( 1872756 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:04AM (#39482159)

    I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn't miscarry or that their daughter doesn't bleed to death or that their mother doesn't suffer acute neural trama from postoperative shock, who do you think they're praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, _Dennis_, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you're looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn't like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God. ~~ Dr. Jed Hill (Malice 1993)

  • Re:Optimisim (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gutnor ( 872759 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:14AM (#39482201)
    Also there is more money to be made curing psychosomatic type disease than real one. I'm sure big pharma would be happy to get rid of scary sickness like cancer so that people live longer and pay more attention to take their variety of "psychological disorders'. Pill to cure sadness, boredom, ... that where long term money is.
  • Re:But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chatsubo ( 807023 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:21AM (#39482219)

    The way I understand it, is that our immune system usually waxes cells that have gone rogue, and we get 'cancer' all the time except those cells get killed quickly by our immune system.

    However 'true' cancer has a mutation that prevents this from happening and this drug turns that mechanism on again, so things can work as usual.

    In other words: normal cells should carry on as before.

    (If I understand this correctly, IANAD)

  • Re:Optimisim (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RivenAleem ( 1590553 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:31AM (#39482251)

    You cannot eradicate cancer, like you would a virus (smallpox). Cancer is an inherent flaw in the design of the human body (living past it's intended lifetime, not dying to wild animals) and we will have to put up with it for a very long time (until our understanding of medicine reaches a point where we can manipulate our genes to prevent cancer ever occurring in the first place).

    If you have a cure for cancer, you will market it immediately, and make a whole lot of money. We will not reach a medical level to eradicate cancer in the patent lifetime of such a drug.

    Believe it or not, there are still some people in big Pharma who are in it for the patients, not the money. And even if cancer was gone tomorrow, there would still be many many other things for big pharma to make money on, if that was all they are interested in.

    Disclaimer: I work in big Pharma, and I see every day, people working hard for patients, not for the money.

  • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @04:43AM (#39482285)

    Hint: Drinking is OK as long as it's beer or wine and it's not so much that you damage your liver. It's the hard stuff that damages mucous membranes.

  • Re:But... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @05:42AM (#39482467)

    I used to stagger home through the woods after each round of chemo

    The sad thing here may be that people who have never really had a significant health problem will act all shocked about having to "stagger home" and consider it some impossible act of bravery. Fact is, if you can walk home - or stand at all - you're not in that bad a state.

    I have just watched a grandparent slowly die - bedbound. His organs were failing. He bounced in and out of awareness of the people around him. Meanwhile I'm fortunate in that I've only been really unhealthy for a couple of weeks, following an operation with complications. My abdomen was full of drains and I was so coked up on painkillers that apparently it took me minutes to finish a sentence (I was conscious but felt completely numb - I wasn't really aware of what was going on). But I have recovered completely from that.

    Compare my uncle, in his 60s, whose chemo a couple of years ago made him "feel awful" but he remained walking wounded throughout, carrying on and getting through it. My girlfriend's sister won't be so lucky - she has a few months to live following a late diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

    tl;dr The human body can take a lot of shit. If you are worried about any symptoms, don't fear, but run to your doctor for a diagnosis. If you find you have cancer and need treatment, don't fear, but receive it happily - you'll feel a little shitty, btu if you're not too old then your body can get through much worse things.

  • Re:But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @06:12AM (#39482597)

    There was an AC posting a few days ago in the thread about "steering wheel position" who had lost his wife and young son as a result of a malfunctioning airbag sensor. That's not to take anything away from the insight of AC above, though.

    Just to point out that ACs have a bad rep on slashdot that is increasingly outdated. I personally refused to sign up with /. at 5 digits because I thought I would waste more time here if I had an account. Since then privacy concerns have heightened massively. Anonymity has become something that can actually be praiseworthy.

    While the standard of posts has gone down massively on slashdot in the last 15 years, far more ACs are getted modded into visibility than before. Maybe some ACs are victims of the "slashdot edit wars", or semi-famous nicks that want to make their point in a neutral way, or prolific posters who got fed up of stalkers. ACs don't mind getting routinely bashed on slashdot - but the automatic hatred of ACs seems more dogmatic than based on any recent evidence.

  • Re:Won't happen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @08:55AM (#39483449) Journal

    I suppose that if this treatment is as effective as advertised, we will soon see just how powerful Big Pharma's influence is.

    You're assuming that a cure for cancer would not be in the interests of Big Pharma. I don't think that is necessarily true. Most current cancer treatments are expensive (also often expensive to produce, so not a huge profit margin) and are only sold for shortish treatment periods. Either the patient recovers or dies. A proper cure could easily see people living 20+ years longer. Old people tend to be a better market for pharmaceuticals (of the non-recreational kind, anyway) and so the profit from having people not die from cancer is likely to be greater than the loss from not selling them cancer treatments.

  • Re:But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blue trane ( 110704 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @09:38AM (#39483803) Homepage Journal

    Your lack of empathy for these fellow-mortals is contemptible, my dear sir. Please repair your relation to Nature's social union.

    To a Mouse

    Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
    O, what panic's in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi' bickering brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
    Wi' murd'ring pattle!

    I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union,
    An' justifies that ill opinion,
    Which makes thee startle,
    At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
    An' fellow-mortal!

    I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
    What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
    A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
    I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
    An' never miss't!

    Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
    It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
    An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
    O' foggage green!
    An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
    Baith snell an' keen!

    Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
    An' weary Winter comin fast,
    An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
    Thou thought to dwell,
    Till crash! the cruel coulter past
    Out thro' thy cell.

    That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
    Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
    Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
    But house or hald.
    To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
    An' cranreuch cauld!

    But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
    Gang aft agley,
    An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
    For promis'd joy!

    Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
    On prospects drear!
    An' forward, tho' I canna see,
    I guess an' fear!

  • Re:But... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @10:02AM (#39484031)

    In the case of drugs for life-threatening conditions, why don't we have a system where those patients who are virtually gauranteed to die soon can be used in super-early trials? If I was given a "you have maybe 3 months tops, you're hopeless" cancer prognosis, I'd want researchers stabbing random cancer drugs into me at will, even if they've never even tried a mouse. Worst case I still die. Best case they cure me (very slim odds). Good chance they get some useful data from watching my body react in the lab, even if I'm too late-stage for whatever promising results they might see.

  • Re:But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gorzek ( 647352 ) <> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @10:16AM (#39484185) Homepage Journal

    What you've suggested is, unsurprisingly, very controversial in the medical and legal communities.

    Here is an interesting paper on the subject: []

  • Re:But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @10:46AM (#39484467) Homepage

    you have maybe 3 months tops, you're hopeless

    Such a prognosis would be rare. People have looked hopeless and ended up turning around and recovering. Doctors are extremely reluctant to pronounce you terminal, instead they read you the odds. Just last week, or the week before, I heard an interview on NPR with a woman who's had stage IV breast cancer that metastasized into her skeletal system for the past 25 years. She's tried a wide variety of cancer treatments, none of them have seemed to make much impact on her condition. Typical chances of survival for her cancer at that stage are pretty low (that's about the worst case scenario for breast cancer), but as she demonstrates, the only people whose actual survival time is known with any certainty are the people who are at the "days left to live" stage (and probably already on hospice care), not the "months/years" left stages.

    The more certain they are about the survival chances, the more damage has already been done to the body. Even if you could cure the cancer side-effect free overnight, such patients would likely still die from complications.

    Worst case I still die

    Dying is not the worst case. Living fully aware, hooked up to a large pile of life support machines in substantial and unending pain is the worst case, and not out of the range of possibilities.

    Drugs for terminal conditions do sometimes get approved for earlier human trials. But a study has to be running (there are several reasons they can't just take one-off patients as they become available, it creates too many uncontrollable factors, and makes double-blind methodology all but impossible). For all clinical trials, patients have to be free from complications which may distort results in the study (if you accept patients with existing heart conditions, that patient cannot be used to indicate heart conditions). The healthier the patient, the more meaningful the study results.

    So it can be difficult to amass a statistically significant population of very late stage otherwise-healthy patients (don't forget you also need a control group to receive placebo). Meaningful conclusions cannot be derived from "Let's stick this in Joe's arm and see what happens," without a lot of observation and confirmation bias tainting the results. That means that even if you set aside all ethical and legal considerations, you are still going to have a hard time amassing a sufficient study population for practical reasons. Also as noted, the more certain we are about fatality, the less time that patient has to live, and very-terminal patients have this frustrating tendency to die.

  • Re:But... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @06:05PM (#39490441) Homepage Journal

    Let's just hope that this treatment doesn't end up with a new type of cancer cell that doesn't have the over-expressed CD47.

    That's probably already true for some kinds of cancer. One of the problems with the media's coverage of cancer is that they tend to talk about it as if it were a single disease. But it's actually a catch-all term for a list of probably thousands of different diseases that have a common symptom of uncontrolled cell growth. It's pretty well understood that what works with cancer X generally can't be expected to work with cancer Y.

    It's funny that people have this confusion, when for example flu is generally understood by most people as the same sort of thing, a name for hundreds of similar diseases, each caused by a single strain of virus. Part of the reason that people understand this is that the anti-flu vaccines produced each year are identified as being "for" a specific strain, and they won't protect you from other strains.

    It would help understand a new "cancer cure" if we understood that it probably affects only some subset (possibly small) of all the different kinds of cancer. But if you read TFS, you don't see many hint of this, and TFA isn't all that much more specific. Of course, the researchers probably thought that by listing the cancers that they'd used in testing, they were implicitly saying "We don't know how it will affect any cancers other than these." But that message obviously hasn't gotten out to the media people who have been breathlessly reporting "a new cure for cancer" as if it were a single silver bullet that would kill all cancers. It's an old story, though, and you see the same response to many earlier "cancer cures".

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito