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Altered Immune Cells Help Girl Beat Leukemia

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the fighting-the-good-fight dept.

Medicine 130

An anonymous reader writes "For decades, one of cancer's most powerful weapons has been to corrupt the human immune system. Finally, researchers in Philadelphia have developed a way to turn that weapon against certain cancers, and potentially open the door to a whole new generation of therapies for all manner of cancers. From the article: 'It is hard to believe, but last spring Emma, then 6, was near death from leukemia. She had relapsed twice after chemotherapy, and doctors had run out of options. Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.'"

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Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (2, Interesting)

Art Popp (29075) | about 2 years ago | (#42246399)

Really; it sounds wonderful, but if Murphy and Pandora had a child, his/her favorite toy would be using lethal viruses to help us combat lethal cancers.

Using nuclear weapons to plug oil gushers, using attack polar bears to guard your bunny farm, using a scalpel to pick your nose... these ideas will go right some of the time too.

A link with more detail:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9508895/A-virus-that-kills-cancer-the-cure-thats-waiting-in-the-coldc.html [telegraph.co.uk]

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Insightful)

RearNakedChoke (1102093) | about 2 years ago | (#42246513)

A virus is not lethal. It is merely a vehicle, a means of reprogramming cells. Its hardware. The lethality is in the software.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (2)

jamesh (87723) | about 2 years ago | (#42246649)

A virus is not lethal. It is merely a vehicle, a means of reprogramming cells. Its hardware. The lethality is in the software.

I don't see how you can reach that conclusion. A virus is almost pure software.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

RearNakedChoke (1102093) | about 2 years ago | (#42246731)

A virus is not lethal. It is merely a vehicle, a means of reprogramming cells. Its hardware. The lethality is in the software.

I don't see how you can reach that conclusion. A virus is almost pure software.

A virus is pure intangible idea/algorithm/concept/instruction? Granted its been a few years since I took biology, but I'm pretty sure all viruses have some sort of outer layer/covering, with their "software" encoded using RNA inside. That's pretty cut and dry hardware and software to me...

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Insightful)

Tmann72 (2473512) | about 2 years ago | (#42246797)

Not just that, but the Virus's physical form is simply a payload mechanism to inject the virus genetic code into healthy cells. The healthy cell that was infected now becomes a virus factory creating tons of new virus cells until it explodes releasing them into your system. There is a very cut and dry hardware to software paradigm here. If we consider that a virus is nothing but a genetic delivery mechanism it instantly becomes the greatest tool humanity has for this type of work. Nothing we can currently create would be even a fraction as effective.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42248867)

The problem of course is when it inserts it's DNA into the wrong place in the human genome and causes more (perhaps worse) problems.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247051)

Not entirely, but mostly, correct. More correctly, they are shell + nucleic acid core. But it is not necessarily RNA. Some have a DNA core(some double, some single strand), others have have an RNA core. Outer coatings are proteins, with an optional outer lipid layer.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Tmann72 (2473512) | about 2 years ago | (#42246835)

By that logic human bodies are entirely software as well, but that obviously isn't correct. Our DNA was used to create our entire body inside of our mothers similar to how the RNA in a virus is used to turn a cell into a virus factory. The maturation chamber and injection mechanisms differ, but the RNA, and DNA in both instances completely describes the physical form to be created. However, once formed there is a very distinct permanency to the physical body that makes it hardware and not software. It contains senses, and mechanisms in order to interact with the world directly. In other words very distinctly hardware and not at all software.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (2, Insightful)

Nyder (754090) | about 2 years ago | (#42246675)

A virus is not lethal. It is merely a vehicle, a means of reprogramming cells. Its hardware. The lethality is in the software.

In other words, viruses don't kill people, people kill people.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (4, Insightful)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 2 years ago | (#42247289)

The DNA/RNA that a lethal virus injects into cells kills people. That DNA/RNA doesn't need to be lethal, though, for it to be a virus. It will reprogram the cell, in this case to help the person.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Nyder (754090) | about 2 years ago | (#42247819)

The DNA/RNA that a lethal virus injects into cells kills people. That DNA/RNA doesn't need to be lethal, though, for it to be a virus. It will reprogram the cell, in this case to help the person.

I was just making a joke.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247385)

That definition is misleading. In general medical usage, 'virus' actually describes a collection of several different aspects: the software, hardware, and the behaviour of the software when run. The term 'virus particle' or 'virion' is closer to what you intend, although due to synecdoche the summary is not mistaken when it uses the term "reprogrammed virus" to refer to engineered viral particles.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42246525)

The problem is... our immune systems are a lot better equipped to deal with viruses than with cancer. Think about it, to kill cancer, your symptoms are similar to a cold. If this takes off, remember all those years they spent trying to treat it with drugs? They've made some progress, but it's relatively insignificant in comparison to a cure. Your body's body is it's best friend :)

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246721)

I don't know about that... our immune system, when functioning optimally and perfectly, kills off cancer before it even starts to become a problem. That's usually not the same for most viruses until you've built up an immunity to it. Pretty much everyone has both cancer and a virus at some time in their life. All those people who "never had cancer" and are 80+ years old have probably had cancer cells develop in their body, but their immune system destroyed them before they became anything to talk about. Realistically, the immune system is pretty much equally equipped to deal with both.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42246943)

At stage 0 you're right, but while we can become fully infected with the flu and still live, not so with cancer, once it gets past a certain point, the immune system can't do much, that's because there's no cancer antibodys, so there's really no tool to fight it if it develops into anything. I don't think we know enough about all the various ways cancer develops to truly understand the early stages however.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246983)

Wikipedia's Cancer Immunology article [wikipedia.org] discusses this, going as far as how exactly the immune system goes about dealing with development of cancer cells in the body. It's actually a very interesting read, as Wikipedia puts it in relatively simple terms, if you're not familiar with it at all.

I am not sure if the goal of this altered immune cells therapy is to activate this process further or equip the immune system to deal with cancer in a whole new way, though. I would imagine it strengthens this existing response, but I'm no expert on it.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246531)

using lethal viruses to help us combat lethal cancers.

Big deal. Lots of things useful things are lethal. Hell, I was injected with a disabled lethal virus a couple weeks ago. Just in time to keep me from being part of this year's flu season. Pretty much every cancer treatment kills things. That's how they work. The goal is to kill the cancer without killing too much of the person with it.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (4, Informative)

omnichad (1198475) | about 2 years ago | (#42246587)

That's how I always describe chemotherapy to the layman. It's taking just enough poison and hoping that the cancer dies first.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246627)

Except with this, the "lethal" part isn't lethal to anything anymore, except cancer cells. Chemo is still just being injected with poison and crossing your fingers.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247221)

It's knowing cancer dies first. It's more worn out by multiplying so fast. You're hoping you get it all.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247225)

That's more than a little misleading. The drugs used in chemotherapy are chosen because they preferentially kill fast-growing tissue first, such as hair, the intestinal endothelium (lining), and tumour cells. It's not as simple as taking some arbitrary, nondescript "poison" under the assumption that the cancerous tissue is poorly equipped to handle all toxins; specific mechanisms are chosen to limit the impact that the drugs have on the rest of the body.

The GP also made a bad comparison since, as the AC also said, inactivated viruses in this form have no replicative ability whatsoever. They're just gene syringes. These same misconceptions arose the last time we discussed retroviral leukaemia treatments.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Pav (4298) | about 2 years ago | (#42247721)

Thanks for a clear explanation which helped me understand both the mechanism and side effects of chemotherapy and their relationship. Somehow years of medical and science articles failed to do this for me.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (4, Insightful)

omnichad (1198475) | about 2 years ago | (#42247729)

I said explaining to the layman. They don't care about those details anyway. Certainly they're not going to just grab some rat poison and self-treat based on what I say. It gets to the point and there's few enough details that they can follow the thought process.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42248705)

To make these virus non-replicating what they do is remove the gene's within the virus genome for encoding the coat proteins. Basically the virus can infect a cell and deliver the target DNA, BUT it cannot replicate.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#42246533)

On the other hand, it takes a fair amount of effort or some very specific actions to transmit HIV, and while this may well cause problems for this girl's life post-adolescence, she'll live to reach it.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246737)

But it's HIV reprogrammed, so it's not even like it would be a problem, she might just have sexually transmitted cancer cures or something. :P

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246939)

Holy crap. Imagine if they could make sexually-transmitted cancer cures?

Unfortunately, the population of slashdot will STILL be decimated by cancer. But the rest of the world would have a field day!!

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (3, Insightful)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about 2 years ago | (#42247087)

Holy crap. Imagine if they could make sexually-transmitted cancer cures?

Unfortunately, the population of slashdot will STILL be decimated by cancer. But the rest of the world would have a field day!!

Your cliche is out of date.

We're now all getting separated or divorced.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247251)

No, the key component of what makes AIDS harmful is a product of its habit of reproducing once it is inside of the cell. The two aspects cannot be separated. If the girl suffers from any long-term side-effects, it will be a reduced susceptibility to HIV, because her immune system is getting a chance to see the HIV coating layer without any payload. (Very much like a weak vaccine.)

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (3, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247269)

...that is, other than having a significant portion of her immune system amputated.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about 2 years ago | (#42247135)

She's not getting AIDS. It's a disabled virus. Read the damn summary.

Identical to the flu shot, just a different payload.

The world is not changed by timid men. (5, Insightful)

Picass0 (147474) | about 2 years ago | (#42246545)

While I understand your concerns, every medical breakthrough has involved risk.

The polio vaccine could have backfired, but it didn't. You and I have grown up without the fear of a disease that plagued every generation up to our parents.

Re:The world is not changed by timid men. (1)

Art Popp (29075) | about 2 years ago | (#42246725)

A fair point. There is a very real price to be paid, in the lives of innocent kids, by not boldly exploring this terrain.

My primary worry is that people are so desperate for this cure, so desperate to focus on something hopeful, that it will become a primary technique before it's long term consequences are well understood. Thalidomide is a great drug for a very narrow range of problems. When applied to morning sickness an estimated 10,000 children in 46 countries got to live with deformities.

My hope is that the companies who stand to profit from this test very thoroughly on a large batch of patients for many years. It's not like it won't pay for itself, most of us will end up fighting some kinds of cancers in our final years. I'd like to know if I'm trading ear-cancer for nose-rot. I prefer to wear a hat to a hockey mask.

Re:The world is not changed by timid men. (1)

Picass0 (147474) | about 2 years ago | (#42246991)

I also hope ethic medical testing is conducted. That said, most of us know (or have known) someone with a terminal illness. If that person were given a chance to alter a certain outcome by using cutting edge medicine most would jump on it.

Re:The world is not changed by timid men. (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | about 2 years ago | (#42247213)

Yes, ethical testing would include people who are desperate and willing to try it. A frayed rope is better than nothing if you're falling.
My best friend is in that position, and would certainly jump at the opportunity to aid research by either staying alive himself, or helping someone else in his position down the track.

Re:The world is not changed by timid men. (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 2 years ago | (#42247173)

My hope is that the companies who stand to profit from this test very thoroughly on a large batch of patients for many years.

They're called "Phase III clinical trials" in the US, and they are absolutely mandatory for obtaining FDA approval to market the product, and effectively mandatory if you want insurance companies to reimburse, without which the market would be prohibitively small. But even the best-run large-scale clinical trial, where every adverse effect is cataloged and reported, won't always catch every potential complication, especially those that may take years to manifest.

Re:The world is not changed by timid men. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42248127)

However there is no reason to not give it to people on their last few days of life. FDA takes too long on a lot of this stuff.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246561)

I, for one, welcome our new disabled HIV overlords...

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246593)

At last, someone with a practical solution to bunny farm security! I am deeply interested in attack polar bears; also, sharks with lasers (still).

.. but you're totally right about Murphy/Pandora; well put. Cheers.

Wampas are better than polar bears (1)

Picass0 (147474) | about 2 years ago | (#42247011)

If you really care about your bunnies invest in the best.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#42246631)

Your link isn't the same research as what the article is talking about though.

The article is about removing a patient's stem cells, using neutered HIV to deliver a payload to them that changes the immune system at a genetic level and then reintroducing the stem cells into the patient. The patient's immune system would then be equipped to kill the cancer. Your link discusses infecting patients with a virus that targets cancer cells preferentially, killing a cancer while at the same time giving the patient only mild symptoms.

On the one had, the article is talking about real, honest to goodness genetic engineering of a living human being which is, quite frankly, science fiction levels of amazing. But it almost universally causes a cytokinetic swarm in the patient as the immune system suddenly knows how to fight massive amounts of what it suddenly sees as infected tissue (actually tumors). The HIV is disabled the same way other viruses are disabled to create vaccines, and even if the patient got HIV somehow that would in fact still be preferable than dying immediately from cancer.

On the other, your article would indicate a cure that would be essentially zero cost to produce. The side affects are minimal but, and this is the proverbial "but" that is probably killing all research on the topic, you also have a virus that is capable of killing the vast majority of one tissue type (tumor) inside the human body. And that is quite frankly terrifying. Until you can quantify how likely or unlikely the virus is to target a different tissue type and how likely is it that the virus is communicable (or could mutate to become so) you won't be trying it out on anyone.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Art Popp (29075) | about 2 years ago | (#42247599)

Thank you MozeeToby. I thought the difference in these solutions was more confined to the delivery mechanism, but they appear to be more distinct. Yes, it's the "selective tissue killer virus" version that seems far more problem-ready to me too.

If the only place the T-cells get modified is in a test tube, and the only modified T-cells the patient gets are from the doctor, and the patients are not the test-tube in which this combining takes place.... Then I find it much less forboding.

Car analogy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246763)

Cars are dangerous, but it's extremely difficult to run somebody over with a car that has no axles. Just as axles are required to move a car under its own power parts of HIV have been removed so that it cannot replicate (and then cause and transmit AIDS) on its own.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (5, Informative)

kwyjibo87 (2792329) | about 2 years ago | (#42246767)

"[using] a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS"

While true, this is a poor way to describe a lentiviral vector, meant to invoke the idea of using HIV to kill cancer in the minds of readers not familiar with modern molecular biology. HIV is a type of virus called a lentivirus, which itself is a type of retrovirus, which means that it takes the RNA genetic code it has packaged in the virion, chemically transforms it into DNA, and integrates this DNA into the DNA of the infected cell. Lentiviral vectors are designed such that they do this part of the viral life cycle, but are engineered to lack the genes necessary to make more viruses, so the integrated virus is dead on arrival.

In this case, the researchers kept the normal HIV surface receptors so the virus would efficiently target and "infect" T-cells from the patient; normally, lentiviruses are given a generic non-HIV receptor so they can infect any cell type you might be using in your lab experiments. The lentivirus genome contained not the normal viral genes, but a chimeric T-cell receptor designed to stimulate an immune response against CD-19, a surface protein specific to B-cells. Once this chimeric gene is integrated, the T-cells will express it on their cell surface, and stimulate the immune system to target and destroy cells that have CD-19 on them; this kills all the B-cells in the body, both healthy and cancerous. This last point is a problem brought up by TFA, that the patient now essentially has a limited auto-immune disorder as the altered T-cells persist in her body and continue to point them immune system to targeting B-cells, leaving her partially immuno-compromised (which is the funny part about using the "virus that causes AIDS" to do this).

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

EuNao (1653733) | about 2 years ago | (#42247077)

It would be amazing if they could change this technology so that it was activated by the presence of some environmental activation molecule (maybe a not so common antibotic would be a good choice.) This technique has great promise, if we could only turn it off and on at will. Perhaps the cytokine storm could be alleviated if you could somehow ramp the response up by concentration of the drug, instead of the current 'nuclear' level immune response.

Very f'ing awesome stuff, as a kid I toyed with the idea of engineering a neutered HIV virus with a payload of a gene with some sort of protein that could block reverse transcriptase. (I was into Genetic engineering then, ended up being a software developer.) Its awesome to see this sort of technology coming to fruition. I have an auto immune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, I can totally seeing this sort of technique working for that eventually as well.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 2 years ago | (#42246857)

I think as a last desperate attempt it makes sense. If the patient is dying then why not try it? Worst case? They die anyway.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247035)

Really; it sounds wonderful, but if Murphy and Pandora had a child, his/her favorite toy would be using lethal viruses to help us combat lethal cancers.

Using nuclear weapons to plug oil gushers, using attack polar bears to guard your bunny farm, using a scalpel to pick your nose... these ideas will go right some of the time too.

A link with more detail:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9508895/A-virus-that-kills-cancer-the-cure-thats-waiting-in-the-coldc.html [telegraph.co.uk]

You'd rather watch your 6-year-old child die before your eyes?

I'm glad you're not my parent.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

epp_b (944299) | about 2 years ago | (#42247039)

Huh, I didn't detect even a hint of sarcasm there. It's like you're unaware that chemotherapy is actually poison pumped directly into the bloodstream.

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247425)

Yes, I think this research is amazing and also really dangerous!

Okay, so let's make a "virus" that reprograms our T-cells to destroy our B-cells. Kills the leukemia, no more cancer of the blood. Sounds great?
Only problem is you have to get B cell infusions now from other healthy humans because you need B cells for your immune system to work. Not a problem so long as there are donors with healthy B cells.

So how long before this modified "HIV" virus escapes the little girl (virii have a way of finding novel ways of doing unexpected things) and spreads to others?

Re:Balancing potential deaths with real-today ones (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 2 years ago | (#42247913)

So how long before this modified "HIV" virus escapes the little girl (virii have a way of finding novel ways of doing unexpected things) and spreads to others?

hmm... I'd guess the next time someone does a T-Cell extraction?

You do realize that there's no HIV "virus" in her bloodstream, but that they're using the retrovirus to reprogram the T-Cells to fight cancer in the lab and then re-injecting her modified T-cells, right?

Are you sure you're a doctor? (5, Informative)

kc9jud (1863822) | about 2 years ago | (#42246473)

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (4, Informative)

Guppy (12314) | about 2 years ago | (#42247161)

I am not a doctor, but I am a med student. :)

Historically, our techniques for treating cancer can be categorized into three categories: chemotherapeutics/radiation which attack rapidly dividing cells indiscriminately; "magic bullet" chemotherapeutics which exploit specific quirks of a cancer's biology -- a feature that differentiates it from normal cells (the perfect solution, but far too few such exploits are known); and immuno-therapeutics that utilize the body's own defenses. In practice, many techniques combine some aspects from the different approaches.

The immuno-therapeutic approach has a long history, beginning with Coley's Toxins [wikipedia.org] , and there are a few cases where a cancer is naturally immunogenic enough for it to work (for instance, using BCG to evoke a response to certain kinds of bladder cancer). It has been hypothesized that the immune system eliminates most abnormal cells before they become cancerous, but the flip-side of this hypothesis, is that abnormal lineages which do become cancers, would only be able to do so because they gained mutations allowing them to evade or suppress that normal defense. In addition, while certain types of cancer increase in frequency in populations with long-term immune suppression (due to AIDS, organ transplant drugs, or some other acquired or congenital condition), many other types of cancer do not -- suggesting that in those cancer types, the immune system's normal tendency to avoid attacking the self, may alone be sufficient to shield them.

Anyway, what is particularly impressive about this CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptors T-Cell) technique, that has been generating a lot of excitement, is its ability to completely and permanently break immune tolerance -- to the point where it does not need to target some identifiable abnormal feature of the cancer, but can target a completely normal feature of that cancer cell's lineage. In this case, the normal CD-19 receptor is targeted, and results in the entire population of B-Cells being wiped out. The leukemia is a sub-set of this cell population, so it is eliminated as well, with the bonus of a persistent immune response that continually suppresses any survivors. The downside is that the patient is left with no B-Cells to produce antibodies, and thus relies on periodic infusions of IVIG (Intravenous Immunoglobulin, consisting of antibodies pooled from donors) to protect against infection.

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42248163)

Thanks for this. They don't mention the flip side in the headlines, do they?

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (1)

fsterman (519061) | about 2 years ago | (#42248227)

What's the end game for this type of treatment; we always balance wiping out an entire class of genes or...?

Also, what do they call the nanobot swarm treatment? :)

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 2 years ago | (#42249678)

, with the bonus of a persistent immune response that continually suppresses any survivors. The downside is that the patient is left with no B-Cells to produce antibodies, and thus relies on periodic infusions of IVIG

Is there some thought that the patient's marrow is going to continue to produce cancerous B-cells? It seems that way because otherwise they'd produce a killer-T-cell with a terminator gene, right?

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247279)

You know that classifies as FUD, right?

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (1)

kc9jud (1863822) | about 2 years ago | (#42247367)

You know this is classified as a *joke*, right?

Re:Are you sure you're a doctor? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247561)

You may want to tell some of the people who voted you up about that, just to be on the safe side.

Let's all be honest... (0, Flamebait)

kc67 (2789711) | about 2 years ago | (#42246517)

Pharmaceutical companies make too much money from cancer for there to be a cure for cancer on the market.

Re:Let's all be honest... (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#42246611)

You really don't understand capitalism do you? Lets all be honest.

Your point is only valid if there are only very few drug companies and no new ones are allowed to form.

Re:Let's all be honest... (4, Interesting)

tragedy (27079) | about 2 years ago | (#42246867)

While there are problems with the GP's theory, you may not completely be understanding capitalism yourself, at least as it seems to apply to the pharmaceutical industry. For example, there have been many instances of sweetheart deals between drug manufacturers with expiring patents and manufacturers of generics where the original manufacturer has paid the generic manufacturers _not_ to produce generics. As long as the profit margin is high enough on the original and would be low enough on the generics, it's viable. At least, it's viable enough for long enough that, even if you can't say that the industry outright blocks things, it does have a certain... inertia about it.

Re:Let's all be honest... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247483)

That's what the patent system exists for.

Re:Let's all be honest... (1)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | about 2 years ago | (#42246613)

We will have to wait for the next Jonas Salk.

Re:Let's all be honest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246667)

Ahh Haa I caught you. You're the one whose been buying up all the tinfoil at the supermarket aren't you! My shake and bake just wasn't the same thanks to you.

Re:Let's all be honest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247609)

A tin foil hat remark. How original. Still wearing a single glove as a fashion statement and caring for your pet rock?

Re:Let's all be honest... (1)

EvolutionInAction (2623513) | about 2 years ago | (#42246747)

Do they really? I mean, people with incurable cancer tend to die. That is a customer lost right there. A single, expensive and mostly permanent treatment at least means that some of the patients will relapse and need another treatment.

Re:Let's all be honest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246823)

Not to mention potentially purchase other products for new ailments their live bodies can attract

Re:Let's all be honest... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246781)

Well, you see. We'll cure cancer, but make sure that you have HIV afterwords from that cure, so that way, you have to spend money on these expensive retroviral medications for the rest of your life. That way, rather than just being dead in a couple years, we'll make money off of you for a handful of decades. So, yes, we will cure cancer and put that on the market. But you'll have to get other expensive treatment for the rest of your life because of that cure. But you don't have cancer any more!

Re:Let's all be honest... (1)

backslashdot (95548) | about 2 years ago | (#42246895)

When have you been? Retroviral medications are dirt cheap now. Treating HIV nowadays is a single daily pill of Atripla (or Indian generics if you are poor).

It is easier to treat than hypertension.

Re:Let's all be honest... (5, Insightful)

backslashdot (95548) | about 2 years ago | (#42246909)

You realize that it costs insurance companies about half a million dollars to treat a cancer patient? And most of that money goes to all kinds of different companies many of them struggling on low margins making an assortment of drugs, medical services, and other stuff. Now let's say a company comes out with a cure for cancer .. They can charge $100,000 for it as pure profit .. Insurance companies would gladly pay. 10 million people a year get cancer .. That means the profit will be an absolutely insane $1 trillion dollars a year.

Or forget that .. Steve jobs had cancer and died of it .. All a company that had the cure had to do was call him up and charge him $5 billion cash plus 50% ownership of Apple for the cure.

Re:Let's all be honest... (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 2 years ago | (#42247253)

They can charge $100,000 for it as pure profit

There are already therapies that cost that much just to keep the patient alive for another year. I think they could get away with a substantially higher price for a one-time course of treatment that would actually cure cancer - probably with discounts for those who couldn't afford it.

Of course, the value of the free advertising and public goodwill for being the company that cured cancer would count for an awful lot too. (Probably also a Nobel prize in it for someone - the creators of Gleevec won the Lasker award, and that drug needs to be taken continually.)

Re:Let's all be honest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247999)

Or forget that .. Steve jobs had cancer and died of it .. All a company that had the cure had to do was call him up and charge him $5 billion cash plus 50% ownership of Apple for the cure.

Steve Jobs did not go into traditional medicine-based therapies for quite a while after he got cancer. It is not known conclusively either way, but he may have lived longer had he gone in for traditional therapy much sooner.

Let's try not to be so stupid. (1)

westlake (615356) | about 2 years ago | (#42247091)

Pharmaceutical companies make too much money from cancer for there to be a cure for cancer on the market.

The "cure for cancer" implies a level of competence so high that every product you bring to market will show the benefits. You just might learn enough along the way to begin treating aging itself as a chronic disease.

Re:Let's all be honest... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#42247303)

Go back to Economics 101. Drug company A who depends on cancer management drug B can be put out of business by drug company C who makes cancer cure D. For every company A, there exists a large number of companies who want to make cure D. To say nothing of the PR that it would cause! Just because one company doesn't want to lose their cash flow doesn't mean others will let them. This happens all the time in incremental improvements in e.g. blood pressure medication, and finding a cure is really just taking the limit of that process of iterative refinement.

AIDS vs. Cancer (1, Interesting)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 2 years ago | (#42246535)

If it turns out that the AIDS virus took 50 years off of the timeline to finding a cure for cancer, I wonder if the AIDS epidemic was worth it.

Re:AIDS vs. Cancer (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#42246633)

It was to me, but I didn't die from aids, nor did anyone I knew.

Re:AIDS vs. Cancer (4, Insightful)

Nyder (754090) | about 2 years ago | (#42246783)

It was to me, but I didn't die from aids, nor did anyone I knew.

My neighbor, who had AIDS, died a week ago.

While this doesn't matter to you (it's cool.), it does show that AIDS still affects people and others around people with AIDS.

He ended up with cancer in his bone marrow, was given kemo, but when told he wasn't going to be able to go home again (would require 24 care which he couldn't afford), he chose to stop taking treatments, and died a couple days later. And I don't blame him.

So even it AIDS virus took 50 years off the timeline to finding a cure for cancer, it doesn't matter to my neighbor, because he's dead regardless. But I think he'd be happy to know that even while AIDS was bad for him, it might be doing some good for others.

Re:AIDS vs. Cancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247001)

I've been wodering about AIDS and some cancers. I took a "chemotherapy" that wasn't poison but boosted the immune system to an unhealthy level and depend on the immune system to kill the cancer. If I had AIDS, or a transplant, or any of the immunity diseases, I wouldn't have been able for that treatment. Bad thing is that is the only type of effective treatment for my type of cancer.

So they used the AIDS virus to help the girl, but if she actually had AIDS before treatment it wouldn't have worked.

I'm also kind of curious about your neighbor. Most traditional chemos are taken for one day a month and sometimes you need help a couple of days, but not the full month. There was probably more to the story. Mine was every day for nearly a year, but wasn't what you would traditionally call chemo and I was able to continue working through all of it.

Re:AIDS vs. Cancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246651)

Ouch.....

Take your foot out of your mouth.

Re:AIDS vs. Cancer (2)

reverseengineer (580922) | about 2 years ago | (#42247243)

HIV isn't the only retrovirus or the only virus that targets T-cells. I will admit that the crisis that AIDS has posed has greatly accelerated research into retroviruses, but the development of retroviruses as gene therapy vectors is only tangentially connected to research on AIDS as a disease.

AIDS as a pandemic has from the start been as much or more about public health measures as it has virology, and if we had been far more fortunate, HIV would have remained a fearsome but rare curiosity. Research on it might have remained a backwater of the academic world, and yes, the pace of treatments like this might have been slowed, though I strongly doubt by 50 years. When you ask if success against cancer means AIDS could have been "worth it," I believe that we would have had ample opportunity to obtain this knowledge without the cost of thirty million lives.

Some day (1)

jameshofo (1454841) | about 2 years ago | (#42246573)

Jared: "I lost weight because I got aids, and I want to give everyone Aids too!"

But seriously its extremely cool to see the sci-fi like ideas that you watch and just think "yea right" come to life. One could almost argue that the vision of art helps drive the dream of science. Maybe what the US Government needs to invest in rather than a huge boondoggle bill is a new Star Trek trilogy!

seen this movie before (2)

Thud457 (234763) | about 2 years ago | (#42246681)

Will Smith thinks this is a bad idea.

Can it spread? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42246689)

Is it a cure for the disease, for the individual, or a fix that makes us able to fight multiple types of cancer? Does the cure spread like AIDs? Can I take some of her blood and infect 50 people with cancer? And then infect more with those? Cheapest medication ever?

Knee Jerk (4, Informative)

headhot (137860) | about 2 years ago | (#42246773)

Wow there are a lot of people freaking out they are using HIV for this.

Um, relax, they didn't give the girl HIV, they re-engineered the virus into something new. The virus doesn't replicate in the to host. T-cells removed from the host are exposed to the engineered HIV. The engineered HIV then changes the DNA in the T-cells to allow it to attack cancerous B-cells. The T-cells are then re-injected and do their work. The T-cells continue to replicate, but the engineered HIV is not actually introduced into the body.

Re:Knee Jerk (4, Informative)

Kyusaku Natsume (1098) | about 2 years ago | (#42247071)

I would mod you up to 11. The drawback, aside the initial cytokine storm is the complete loss of B-cells. I suppose that they could store unaltered T-cells and return the unaltered T-cells after they confirmed cancer remission, in a tick-tock strategy to let the patient recover their healthy B-cells. HIV is only a vehicle, in the same vein a pill is a vehicle for medicine, nothing else.

Re:Knee Jerk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247333)

I doubt they could be returned...the patient is effectively vaccinated against her own cells. I suppose one could make other immune cells (NK cells?) that target just the B-cell-targetting Tcells...but that sounds a bit complicated.

Re:Knee Jerk (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 2 years ago | (#42249700)

I suppose one could make other immune cells (NK cells?) that target just the B-cell-targetting Tcells.

It would be better to insert genes that would trigger apoptosis in the programmed T-cells. Better to require therapeutic doses of T-cells for the treatment period than to require maintenance therapies for life.

Re:Knee Jerk (4, Informative)

Turminder Xuss (2726733) | about 2 years ago | (#42248021)

Exactly and thankyou. It's like amputating the B-cells. Not a risk free procedure, the cytokine storm can kill and then the resultant immune deficiency effects must be managed. But a susceptibility to colds is a lot better than leukemia. The treatment targets all B-cells, whether cancerous or not. We are still not identifying and destroying cancerous cells only. That is when words like "cure" might get to be used.

My mother almost had a similar treatment (4, Interesting)

Bacon Bits (926911) | about 2 years ago | (#42246979)

My mother was diagnosed with acute myelodysplastic syndrome in 2006, and the doctors she spoke with talked about this type of treatment. At the time it was not ready for use in humans, however. We did talk for awhile with the doctors about the nature of cancer and this type of treatment.

Many people are aware that cancer is present in almost all people at several times in their lives. The vast majority of cancers are from genetic defects that the body detects as an alien, and it will attack and destroy the mutated cells just as foreign bacteria or a transplanted organ are. Now, the types of cancer that we talk about and that result in terminal illness is from a mutation that is different enough to be deadly and parasitic to the human body, but not different enough to be detected as different.

All cells contain markers that act as identification badges. Last I was aware, there were 10 known genetic markers for humans that determine this identity (only six were known in the 1990's, so this is pretty new stuff). Its these markers that are used to find organ and tissue donors. However, even a perfect 10 out of 10 match is not enough to guarantee that foreign tissue will be detected as alien, so we know that our known list of 10 markers is incomplete. This is why perfect matches still face rejection risks.

The problem then, from a leukemia perspective, is that donor bone marrow will produce white blood cells that see the recipient body as alien, and attack it. That's kind of what you want, since the idea is to kill the cancerous bone marrow, but it's not exactly discriminate about what it will attack. So for leukemia treatment, you don't even want a perfect 10 out of 10 match since that would be counterproductive. Perfect donor bone marrow wouldn't identify the cancer either, and the cancer would relapse.

What this treatment does is gives doctors a way to tell your body that certain cells are aliens by forcefully altering their DNA. Then the body can just fix itself. That's really what medicine does best: allows the body time to fix itself.

"How can this possibly work?" you think. "Aren't all cancers different?" Well, it turns out the answer is "sort of". We categorize cancers based on the kind of tissue that is affected, but that's really not accurate. We should categorize it based on exactly what genetic sequence mutated and in exactly what way. Cancer, then, is literally a family of thousands of diseases with very similar symptoms. Many cancer types are, in fact, mutations of the same segment in the same way. However, now that we are able to sequence the DNA of a human, we ought to be able to accurately categorize each person's individual cancer by sequencing healthy and cancerous cells. We can then design a DNA segment which will only work in the DNA sequence of cancerous cells and that will identify the cells as alien to the body. The body will then attack the cancer, and destroy it. We will, literally, paint a target on the cancer cells for the human body to destroy. The mechanism for delivery of this kind of genetic manipulation is already supplied to us by nature in the form of a retrovirus. In this girl's case, the retrovirus that seeks out her cancerous cell type is HIV, which attacks white blood cells.

This, then, is the most promising path to the cure for cancer. It will not be cured with a single treatment like polio or smallpox, but the method can be applied over and over against every type of cancer.

My mother was given more traditional treatment with a bone marrow transplant. The best match that could be identified was an 8 out of 10 match. Even so she successfully underwent the transplant and survived a year longer than she was given when diagnosed. She then relapsed, and was beginning her second treatment when she died from a massive stroke caused by all the medications required to treat the disease and the anti-rejection drugs and the side effects of the medications. If she had had this kind of option where doctors could reprogram her immune system to seek and destroy the cancerous bone marrow like it's supposed to instead of having to rely on grafted bone marrow that would attack her healthy tissue as well, she might still be alive today.

This is the type of research that will suffer... (-1, Offtopic)

KrazyDave (2559307) | about 2 years ago | (#42247147)

under Obamacare because drug companies will have little incentive to invest.

Why this matters... (1)

njvack (646524) | about 2 years ago | (#42247255)

In case you're thinking "yeah, cancer, big deal. People die every day" I welcome you to watch Anthony Griffith on The Moth [youtube.com] describe his personal experience with leukemia.

WARNING: NSFW -- both for (IIRC) some rather strong language and the uncontrollable weeping that will consume you for the rest of the day.

Re:Why this matters... (1)

Turminder Xuss (2726733) | about 2 years ago | (#42248041)

Or just read the summary. That's a real little girl that we've still got.

Thank you science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42247473)

Lost my brother to Leukemia when he was 7, to think that maybe soon no other family goes through that is amazing. Thank you science.

...open the door to a whole new generation (1)

future assassin (639396) | about 2 years ago | (#42247521)

of Zombie kids....

Sounds Great Now... (1)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about 2 years ago | (#42247801)

But when we're all huddled into a dark building hoping Dr. Carl "Legend" June doesn't drag us off for use in bizarre medical experiments to cure the plague he ended up accidentally creating, will you still think this is a good idea?

Handi-capable HIV (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42248403)

Just sayin'

Y5uo fa1l it. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42248461)

Jesus Up The Numbers continue Conversations where irc.secsup.org or things in NIIGER ASSOCIATION fellow travellers? faster, cheaper, these challenges if you move a table Year contract.

Science! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42249112)

Science: Turning AIDS into medicine.

"used a disabled form of the virus that causes" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42249432)

"used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS"

LOL. Are they incapable of writing 'HIV'?

HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and 99% of Slashdotters don't even know what 'AIDS' is.

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