An immune system trained to kill cancer

By now several blog readers have written to me about a recent New York Times article that discusses a promising-sounding study done by a University of Pennsylvania team of researchers, so I decided to post about it today…Click here to read the article:

Remember what I wrote about high fevers that might boost the immune system into killing cancer cells? In fact, I tried to test that theory on my own silly self last winter (meaning, when I had the flu I didn’t take any fever-reducers, but my fever simply didn’t get high enough to do much “good”…39° Celsius won’t do the trick, evidently!, so I might as well have taken some acetaminophen, oh well…). Anyway, a dangerously super-high fever sometimes can be a super good sign…if you survive it, that is… 

But this new procedure is different. It’s not just about high fevers. It actually trains the immune system to kill cancer cells, by using a disabled form of H.I.V.-1, the virus that causes AIDS, to carry cancer-fighting genes into the patients’ T-cells. In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.

Okay, it sounds quite scary (I mean, heck, the AIDS virus…disabled or not…!), but this treatment seems to have worked for two patients with advanced CLL who had run out of chemotherapy options. The U of Penn team chose to use the AIDS virus because it evolved to invade T-cells. Makes sense…

I would like to point out that two of the CLL patients in this study have gone into complete remission…but a third patient has not, and the team still doesn’t can’t figure out why…

And let’s not forget that this treatment is NOT WITHOUT DANGER TO PATIENTS (see page 2). These transformed T-cells can also attack healthy tissue and, well, kill you. That happened last year to a 39-year-old woman with advanced colon cancer in a similar study at the National Cancer Institute…And another death might also be related to a T-cell infusion…

In spite of that, I must say that I found this an interesting and possibly very promising bit of research…


  1. Hi Margaret. Great research. Dr Ralf Kleef at the insitute of hyperthermia and immunotherapy in Vienna Germany use whole body hyperthermia for over 8 hours with various cell vaccines and even low dose chemo.

    I haven not heard of anyone who has used his services. I was wondering your opinion of him. Gods blessings. Joe

  2. Margaret,
    Thanks for all the information you keep in front of us.

    I had to think about something else I heard at one time. It was something to the effect that if you get hot flashes after going thru chemo that is a good thing. I think the principle was that the hot flash could kill forming cancer cells. Somewhat the same principle?

    So now three years after BMT, I never complain that I have hot flashes, I just think of them as body cleansing:) Of course, the men are out of luck on this one. But could it be that a woman’s curse is really evil used for good in post cancer life?

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