HIV Being Used to Cure Cancer
I first heard of this through the comic strip XKCD and thought that it was the author exaggerating a research trial a little. Turns out, he was spot on.
The New York Times wrote about a recent study where doctors are able to used an attenuated HIV-1 to infiltrate and destroy cancer cells. The nutshell version of what HIV does is it attacks the body’s immune system, particularly the T-cells, and leaves the body unable to defend itself. HIV doesn’t directly kill people, but it does leave a body in such a weakened state so that any little cold or infection is then life-threatening.
In their normal state, T-cells are unable to fight off cancer cells and tumors. However, scientists have figured out a way to reprogram the genes of HIV in a way that helps T-cells destroy cancerous cells. The HIV-infected T-cells are then re-introduced to the patient and the battle is on.
The first trial only included three leukemia patients, all of which had reached the limits of chemotherapy. Today, two of the three are currently in complete remission, the other is in partial remission. Doctors are not completely certain of the reason for the partial, as many variables come into play.
So is there a tradeoff between having terminal cancer and instead choosing to infect oneself with HIV that later becomes AIDS? Researchers say no, because
“the virus used by his team was ‘gutted’ and was no longer harmful.”
There is one minor drawback to the treatment, the T-cells do completely destroy all of the body’s B-cells, another major component of the immune system, but a periodic infusion of other infection fighting substances can help that.
This seems like a major breakthrough in the field of cancer research. I’m guessing just about everyone has been either directly or indirectly touched by the effects of cancer, or they know they are genetically predisposed to the disease.
This research is still in its early stages, but hopefully within a few years, the trials can be successfully repeated and this will become another tool in the fight against cancer.