A research team at the University of Pennsylvania, US, has claimed to have found a clever way to deal with cancer. The technique uses a disabled form of the HIV virus, which leads to AIDS, to carry genes into white blood cells called T-cells. These T-cells are then reprogrammed to attack cancer – with startling results, the Mirror reported.
An American child of six was suffering from a deadly form of leukaemia that was resistant to all forms of treatment and her doctors had run out of options. Her parents sought an untried, experimental treatment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, US.
It had never been tried in a child or anyone with the same kind of leukaemia. The treatment nearly killed her but, now at the age of seven, she’s cancer free. She’s one of just 12 patients who have had the same treatment.
Researchers are hoping it will eventually go on to replace bone marrow transplantation, which is a risky, time-consuming and expensive procedure that is often the only hope when all other treatments have failed. In the small number of patients treated so far, some have had complete remissions, while two of them are still well after more than two years.
To give the treatment, doctors first remove millions of the patient’s T-cells, then insert new genes into them that enables the T-cells to kill cancer cells. The carrier for the genes is a disabled form of the HIV virus, which is very good at carrying genetic material into T-cells.
The altered T-cells are then dripped back into the patient’s body through a vein and, hopefully, multiply and start destroying the cancer. A sign the treatment is working is when the patient becomes very ill with a raging fever and chills. This is due to the outpouring of natural chemicals, cytokines, from the cells of the immune system as they’re being activated. When the altered T-cells persist, patients go into long remission of their disease. However, the treatment is costly as a new batch of T-cells has to be created for each patient.
In the US, producing the engineered T-cells costs about 12,500 pounds – far less than a bone marrow transplant.
If the treatment could be scaled up, it would be even cheaper to perform. Many more patients must be treated and studied before the procedure will be accepted properly.