Human Achievement Of The Day: Using HIV To Cure Leukemia

The title of the Vimeo video below is “Fighting Fire with Fire,” which conveys fairly well what doctors from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) did when they used the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to reprogram the T-cells of a 7 year old girl in order to cure her of leukemia.

Fire With Fire | Ross Kauffman from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Pediatric oncologist Stephan A. Grupp of CHOP and his colleagues presented the updated results of their clinical trial of the innovative therapy at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting on December 10 in Atlanta. To conduct the treatment (officially called CTL019), doctors collect T-cells from the patient and reengineer them with a disabled form of HIV to recognize and attach to a protein that is found only on the surface of B-cells. B-cells are found in the immune system and become cancerous in certain leukemias and lymphomas. Once the reengineered T-cells are injected into the patient, they multiply and are able to attach to the cancerous B-cells—which would otherwise fly under the immune system’s radar—and destroy them.

In Dr. Grupp’s trial of the 12 patients, 9 with advanced leukemias responded to the CTL019 treatment. One of those, a 7-year old girl, named Emily Whitehead, with a particular virulent type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). While about 85 of ALL cases can be cured in the first few years of treatment, about 15 percent have a type of ALL that is very resistant to treatment—and that’s the type Emily had. After relapsing for the second time, Emily’s parents enrolled her in the clinical trials at CHOP.

On April 17, 2012, Emily became the first pediatric patient to be treated with CTL019. In the weeks that followed, she seemed to get worse. But under the watchful eye of Dr. Grupp and his team, who were able to counteract the side effects of the treatment, Emily’s condition improved. Within three weeks of entering the trial, Emily’s cancer was in remission.

 “Emily completely responded to her T cell therapy,” said Dr. Grupp. “We checked her bone marrow for the possibility of disease again at three months and six months out from her treatment, and she still has no disease whatsoever. The cancer-fighting T cells are still there in her body.”

The treatment could eventually replace bone marrow treatment as the primary weapon against leukemia and according to Dr. Grupp could lead to “widely available treatments for high-risk B cell leukemia and lymphoma, and perhaps other cancers in the future.”

image via the Daily Mail