Friday, March 20, 2015

Using Viruses to Cure Cancer - Getting The Word Out

On March 6th, just two weeks ago, an HBO television program called Vice aired a documentary about how viruses, some of which used to kill human beings in large numbers, are now being utilized to treat and actually cure cancer.  Major cancer research centers such as The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas and The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, are conducting groundbreaking trials with cancer patients using genetically modified viruses such as the common cold virus, the measles virus and the HIV virus. According to the physicians involved in these trials, we are on the verge of a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. As the maker of this documentary states, it is important to get the word out about this so that these technologies can be fast tracked and be made available to anyone who needs them.

Dr. John Bell at the Center for Innovative Cancer Research in Ottawa, Canada, is credited with being the first to discover that viruses can actually attack cancer cells without harming the healthy cells around them.  One of the most successful series of ongoing trials has been happening at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia under the auspices of Dr. Carl June. Dr. June and his colleagues have for about the last four years, been using the HIV virus to treat leukemia in children whose cancer had progressed to the point where other standard cancer therapies were no longer of any use. In these trials, genetically engineered HIV is being used to reprogram the t-cells in the patients' bodies, so that the patients' immune systems can tell the difference between the cancer cells and normals cells, and begin to attack the cancer cells. In this documentary, Dr. June informs us that so far, thirty-nine children have participated, and ninety percent have experienced complete remission with no remaining trace of their cancer. Most seem to be staying in remission for several years. He goes on to tell us that this particular treatment is "probably going to be available and FDA approved in 2016", and that using modified viruses to treat cancer represents "a true paradigm shift".

There are about 300 kinds of cancer. Which viruses attack which cancers most effectively? There is still a lot of research that needs to happen to answer this question. At the Mayo Clinic, they are reengineering the measles virus, and then using it to treat bone cancers.  At MD Anderson, they are treating glioblastomas or brain cancers with a modified common cold virus and patients who had no hope are going into remission.

View the entire VICE documentary here:

No comments: