A few years ago a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania developed an experimental cure for the deadly cancer disease. They had a dozen patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and several kids suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Standard chemotherapy treatment failed to cure all patients and they would have probably died within a couple of months.
The researchers developed a unique technique which modifies the patients’ T-cells and turns them into “serial killer” cells whose main targets are the cancerogenic tumor cells. These “serial killer” cells specifically attach themselves to CD-19 antigen which is actually the cause for the malignant lymphocytes in the leukemia patients.
The best way the researchers could modify the patients’ T-cells was to genetically engineer them to start producing antibody-like proteins that would seek out and destroy the tumor cells. In order to make this process work the researchers needed to use the HIV virus.
The HIV naturally looks for the T-cells in a person’s body and attaches to them. The HIV then makes the cells reproduce millions of infected copies by functionally taking over. In this case the team found a way to reprogram the HIV deadly cells so they do not copy themselves but only seek out the T-cells and turn them into specific cancer “serial killers”.
From the 12 patients who participated in the trial treatment, 9 responded very well and went into a remission. The researchers received additional funding and are currently continuing their breakthrough in this field. The possibility exists that the same technique is used to target other tumor antigens with “serial killer” cells.