HIV is being used as a possible cure for cancer

A neat video about how researchers are using a modified HIV virus – yes, the virus that causes AIDS – to fight cancer.  In the case detailed in the video, a little girl named Emma is now in remission from leukemia as a result of the so-far successful treatment.


A reader who’s a doctor, Mark Thoma, MD, sent in his summary of the new treatment:

If you never thought you’d see the day when you’d appreciate HIV . . .

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were looking for a way to stop tumor cell growth, or actively kill the tumor cells.  They had several patients (adults with chronic lymphocytic leukenia) and kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  These patients had failed all previous standard chemotherapy treatments and would all have probably died in less than a 1 month.

Researchers at Penn had developed a technique to modify the patients’ own T-cells to turn them into what they called “serial killer” cells.  These serial killer T-cells could each kill approximately 1000 tumor cells that had the CD-19 antigen on them.  This antigen is found on the malignant lymphocytes in these leukemia patients.

To produce the serial killers, researchers needed to modify the patients’ own T-cells by genetically engineering them to produce an antibody-like protein that would sic them on the tumor cells.  To do that, the researchers needed to get at the T-cells’ genes.  They found that the best way to get this process to work was to use HIV.

The HIV naturally seeks out T-cells and binds to them, then injects its own genetic material, functionally taking over the cell.  Forcing it to produce millions of copies of HIV before the cell dies.  The researchers modified the HIV so that it could no longer cause the infected cells to produce HIV.  But it was programmed to cause them to produce the protein that would make them highly specific serial killers.

The researchers removed T-cells from each patient, cultured them, added the specially programmed HIV.  They let the HIV inject and modify the cells, removed them and infused them into the patients.  The results?  The modified T-cells were very effective.  In one case, the modified T-cells destroyed an estimated two POUNDS of tumor.

12 patients who participated in this small trial (10 adults and 2 children).  Nine patients responded and all are still alive, some after almost three years.  They show no evidence of any remaining leukemic cells and are generally doing well.

The research received additional grant funding and is continuing.  The possibility exists that, using modified HIV, other tumor antigens can be successfully targeted and similarly destroyed.

A really neat story, and nice video – it’s only 3 minutes or so long, worth a quick look.  Nice to start the day on a high note:

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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