I was introduced to a video at Atlas, a THON org here, in which a little girl, Emily, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia is cured by using a modified HIV virus. However, I’m sure this seems a little alarming for a lot of people, so I decided to look a little further into the topic. Emily was part of a small clinical trial. But, this concept is not completely new. Studies and experiments on this idea have been going on for about a decade.
Basically, what the doctors do is take the T-Cells which are immune cells in the cancer patients, and inject them with a modified virus which the purpose is to attack the cancer cells and kill them that way. The idea is great in theory because our own immune systems can, in theory, be made to attack the disease that our bodies create on its own. Cancer researchers are spending time trying to figure out why our immune systems can’t recognize these tumors growing and how to make the immune system fight them, hence this trial.
So far, it has cured Emily, two out of three adults in one trial, nine out of twelve in another, and five of five in one more reported.
After Andrew’s lesson in class the other day about pediatric cancer and the ethicality of using children in trials. I thought about this topic using his teachings. Although the results seem promising, a lot more research will have to be done in order to consider this to be a more widespread treatment for leukemia, rather than just an experimental drug. Double-blind placebo trials could be used in order to further test the effectiveness of this treatment. It would be ethical to use patients in trials because cancer drugs have been shown, on average, to have a 50% chance of working or killing the patient, so receiving the drug or not receiving the drug gives you the same chance of not doing anything, vs working to cure/killing the patient. I’m sure in the upcoming years we will see how this treatment plays out.