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HIV Ironically Gives Leukemia Patients Hope for a Cure
2017-07-16 09:20:00
Michael Fox

HIV Ironically Gives Leukemia Patients Hope for a Cure

It is a new dawn for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients as doctors have unveiled a new HIV cell therapy that could possibly reshape the realm of cancer treatment.B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a rare type of cancer that affects the bone marrow by killing white blood cells.The condition is common in young adults and children.

The new therapy, also known as CAR-T cell immunotherapy in medical terms, works by genetically modifying the cells of a patient to fight existing cancer cells.It involves the extraction of numerous immune cells, particularly the T cells, from a patient, after which they are purified in a lab and genetically engineered to kill cancer cells.During the genetic process, doctors combine the T cells with an inactive kind of HIV that acts as a vector to provide a linkage in which genetic matter is introduced into the DNA of the living T cells.The cells then take about 15 to 25 days to grow, multiply, and produce a DNA-encoded protein before they are implanted back into the patient’s body.

Once implanted, the immune cells multiply while the infused genetic matter produces an antibody which hunts down tumor cells, thanks to an inactive type of HIV.The genetic material also enables T cells to obliterate cancer cells completely.Each patient requires a different treatment, where the T cells are extracted, preserved and transported to the Novartis drug plant for the genetic engineering process.After the procedure, the modified cells are then transported back to a treatment center for infusion.

“These cells are serial killers,” says Dr.Carl H.June, one of the leading researchers from the University of Pennsylvania team, which helped in the advancement of the CAR-T cell immunotherapy.The study revealed that one genetically engineered T cell could kill approximately 100,000 tumor cells.While the therapy cures patients from the tumor cells, it also has negative contraindications in that the T cells not only trace and destroy cancer cells but also recognize and destroy healthy cells containing B cells that are helpful to the body’s immune system.This, therefore, calls for additional treatment to boost the immune system as a remedy.

The genetically modified T cells take a few weeks to destroy cancer cells.However, as they do so, patients suffer from dire symptoms which include cytokine release syndrome; a condition that causes fevers which ultimately calm down after treatment, and neurotoxicity; a condition that induces temporal dumbness.A study presented by the CAR-T Franchise Global Project from the drug company Novartis shows that the therapy was used on 63 patients in 11 sample countries, all over the world.These treatments were administered at 25 different sites.All the patients aged 3 to 23 years old, were unresponsive to both standard and supplementary standard treatments. 

During the trial, 52 of the patients were cured and entered a state that doctors call remission where the cancer completely disappeared.However, 11 of the patients died.The median period of remission has not yet been determined although the drug company will continue monitoring patients still in remission for the next 15 years.The new cancer treatment showed a high response rate during the trial.Although the methods used in the treatment have raised many questions regarding safety, long term side effects, as well as the consistency of the medication, are cause for alarm.Another concern involves the use of a harmful virus, the HIV form, as part of the procedural treatment.

A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel recently launched a unanimous sitting, pushing for the approval of the CAR-T cell immunotherapy treatment, based on the 83% response rate.An acceptance of the endorsement from the panel would reshape the future of cancer treatment as the technique has been proven to work on many patients.The treatment also provides a one-time therapy option as compared to the painful bone marrow transplants and frequent chemotherapy options.Emily Whitehead, one of the trial patients who is now 12-year-old received the treatment at the age of 6.She was present with her family for the FDA panel meeting where they affirmed that the therapy saved her life.  “We believe that when this treatment is approved, it will save thousands of children’s lives around the world,” Tom Whitehead, Emily’s father said.

The Novartis drug company is currently working on other similar treatment options that could possibly cure brain tumors and multiple myeloma.The new treatment is giving cancer patients hope as it has opened room for further research and possible breakthroughs in the medical arena.Unlike other known cancer therapies, this form of treatment is not periodic but rather a one-time procedure.Analysts project that, because of the intricacy of the whole process, each treatment procedure is capable of demanding a budget of over $300, 000.

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