Thursday, December 27, 2012

Is A Cure For Cancer Near?

Emily Whitehead photo via
The New York Times is reporting that a disabled form of H.I.V. is being used to reprogram patient’s immune systems to genetically to kill cancer cells.
PHILIPSBURG, Pa. — Emma Whitehead has been bounding around the house lately, practicing somersaults and rugby-style tumbles that make her parents wince.
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.
The treatment very nearly killed her. But she emerged from it cancer-free, and about seven months later is still in complete remission. She is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal — giving a patient’s own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer.
…Three adults with chronic leukemia treated at the University of Pennsylvania have also had complete remissions, with no signs of disease; two of them have been well for more than two years, said Dr. David Porter. Four adults improved but did not have full remissions, and one was treated too recently to evaluate. A child improved and then relapsed. In two adults, the treatment did not work at all. The Pennsylvania researchers were presenting their results on Sunday and Monday in Atlanta at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
Despite the mixed results, cancer experts not involved with the research say it has tremendous promise, because even in this early phase of testing it has worked in seemingly hopeless cases. “I think this is a major breakthrough,” said Dr. Ivan Borrello, a cancer expert and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Targeted fighting of cancer at the cellular level makes a lot of sense. The problem has always been how to destroy those cancer cells without destroying everything else. This is a very promising development.

1.  CRBCM will find out what happened at the ASH regarding this reserach.
2.  Despite the reported success which is impressive, could restoring one thing cure everyone (Driver Mutation)?  Cancer cells are different from the normal cells in so many ways that it is hard to believe that this technique is the cure-all. Indeed, 4 patients did not achieve complete remission. These failures send the researchers back to the drawing boards.
3.Computer models are the way to go. The proper answer is to make an inventory of critical changes compared to normal, and address these changes sequentially or concurrently to improve our success.
4. The last point leads to the importance of mapping technology improvement.
5. Nice to see DR IVAN BORRELLO mentioned; I referred a few patients to him while working at Midatlantic Kaiser Permanente.  I worked there for 14 years!
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