Modified HIV kills cancer, a success story?

Syringe-pen

University of Pennsylvania devised an experimental treatment for advanced leukemia and conducted a human experiment in April. The treatment has resulted in promising results. In summary:

  • 3 adults had complete remission
  • 2 adults have been without symptoms for 2 years
  • 4 adults improved without remission
  • 1 patient is still uncertain
  • a 7 year-old had complete remission

The approach (or similar ones) are being used as experimental treatment at University of Pennsylvania, National Cancer Institute, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

HOW TO USE HIV AGAINST CANCER:

  1. Extract T-cells from patients. T-cells are lymphocytes (aka white blood cells) that fight viral infections.
  2. Infect T-cells with modified HIV. HIV is a retrovirus, capable of rewriting the infected host DNA.
  3. The modified HIV reprograms T-cells to attack B-cells. B-cells turn malignant in leukemia patients. Typically, B-cells fight bacterial infection in healthy individuals.
  4. Reprogrammed T-cells, called chimeric antigen receptor cells, are reintroduced into the patient’s blood.
  5. The T-cells attack CD-19, a protein on the surface of B-cells. The molecular recognition facilitates the specificity of the treatment.

The treatment is not without risks: treated patients suffer what oncologists call “shake and bake”:

Its medical name is cytokine-release syndrome, or cytokine storm, referring to the natural chemicals that pour out of cells in the immune system as they are being activated, causing fevers and other symptoms. The storm can also flood the lungs and cause perilous drops in blood pressure.

Cytokine storm is often deadly. Other drugs (e.g. steroids) can be used to assuage the physiological stress.

 

tldr Modified HIV reprograms mostly healthy white blood cells to attack other blood cells that normally turn cancerous. The treatment has promise, but comes with a fatal risk.

 

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