February 16, 2016

A cure for cancer?

"The researchers genetically modified the t-cells to engineer a new targeting mechanism - with the technical name of chimeric antigen receptors - to target acute lymphoblastic leukaemia."
The lead scientist, Prof Stanley Riddell from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle... told the BBC: "Essentially what this process does is, it genetically reprograms the T-cell to seek out and recognise and destroy the patient's tumour cells. [The patients] were really at the end of the line in terms of treatment options and yet a single dose of this therapy put more than ninety percent of these patients in complete remission where we can't detect any of these leukaemia cells."

65 comments:

traditionalguy said...

A Nobel prize is in order. Somebody call Norway.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Joe Binden steps up and takes credit in 3..2..1...

David Begley said...

ZIOP

coupe said...

Well, let's not get too excited. The anti-doctor/anti-science religious devout have not spoken yet, and we may have to have 9 people decide if this is a good thing, as far as the Jewish God is concerned.

TosaGuy said...

If karma was truly a thing, the luddites in the anti-GMO crowd would not be allowed to partake in this treatment.

Nichevo said...

Coupe, one day science may explain you, but probably better the Jewish scientists at least should keep focused on curing cancer. SMH

Karen of Texas said...


There are a great many potential cures already out there for a great many illnesses if one knows where to look.

And I caution use of the word 'cure'. Remission may be better - because if something is undetectable, that doesn't necessarily mean you're cured. The conditions that brought about the emergence of the disease in many cases may still exist and unless those are dealt with, you're simply getting a reprieve.

And most of these treatments will not be covered by that wonderful health care we all have. Which isn't health care because we are required to purchase health insurance. Insrance. Not care. Having insurance does not equate to accessing care.

We don't have a health care system anyway; we have a disease management system.

eric said...

The important question to ask here is, what T-shirt were the scientists wearing? Are they SJW approved? If not, why should we listen to them?

It's interesting, coupe has correctly identified the obstacle to scientific exploration approximately 4 centuries ago.

Maybe in another four centuries his type will figure out what an SJW is.

tim in vermont said...

. The anti-doctor/anti-science religious devout h

Yeah, the anti-vaxxers are pretty strong in Vermont.

tim in vermont said...

Technically, it's a GMO, so that brings in a whole 'nother bunch of anti science, religiously devout yahoos.

holdfast said...

Who else thought, "oh crap, it's Resident Evil zombie apocalypse time" when they saw "T-cells"?

Eric said...

It's good news, but I wonder how much it costs to take someone's cells and create a custom treatment like this, or how much it would cost if it became the standard treatment.

coupe said...

In 1850, if a man lived to be 40, you were doing good. By 1900, people started living to age 50. By 1940 it was 60, and by 1980 it was 70.

Women, statistically did better at each stage of change.

You could say then, that life has artificially been extended by 40 years. Your typical human is designed to function for 40 years and die.

If you go past 40 years, then yes, the body starts to rot on the bone.

By "curing" cancer, you are merely trying to get a rotten body to live another 10 years.

What we should be doing is harvesting the bodies at 40, before they rot. People should be sent to a building and their bodies should be made into soylent for food.

No one likes meat from an old bull! No, they want meat and fur from unborn animals. It is so tender.

Steve Uhr said...

I trust this news won't intrude on the 24/7 coverage of the election still nine months away.

YoungHegelian said...

@eric,

It's interesting, coupe has correctly identified the obstacle to scientific exploration approximately 4 centuries ago.

Wasn't even the obstacle back then.

Don't go reading the problems & concerns of the late Renaissance & early moderns back into the Middle Ages. For one thing, the late Renaissance had a devotion to the "rightness" of the classical authors that the Medievals simply didn't share, if for no other reason than they didn't have the texts (e.g. Plato's Timaeus). For example, it's Renaissance neo-Platonic concerns that make Copernicus postulate that the planetary orbits in his heliocentric system are circular, in spite of the fact that it's almost impossible to explain sidereal motion with circular orbits. He ended up with more epicycles than Ptolemy!

Original Mike said...

As my hematologist says, "It's a burdensome treatment",

n.n said...

How does the metabolism of tumour cells differ from that of normal cells

it has become possible to envisage the tumour cell as highly adaptable units that are able to connect different pathways in order to overcome challenges that range from unfavourable environments to resistance to regulatory events such as apoptosis and anoikis

Cancer may be both a disease (i.e. transnormal) and a process that signals the next stage in human development. A higher energy form with perpetual viability which requires that we literally break out of our box. Perhaps not all of the supporting mechanisms are yet present for this product to be realized.

Cancer is an obvious metaphor for excessive immigration/migration.

coupe said...

Eric said...It's good news, but I wonder how much it costs...

Depends on your health insurance. I currently am using a biologic, and it costs $2400 for one month of syringes. But it is paid by the US treasury. Which I guess, means it is on a charge account...

Anglelyne said...

eric: It's interesting, coupe has correctly identified the obstacle to scientific exploration approximately 4 centuries ago.

coupe: In 1850, if a man lived to be 40, you were doing good. By 1900, people started living to age 50. By 1940 it was 60, and by 1980 it was 70.

Patience, eric, patience. At least let him get up to speed on what "average lifespan" means before taxing him with updating his history.

Sammy Finkelman said...

This is probably cancer cure No 19. And they all work, or would work, in a substantial number of cases.

Now talk about the bureaucratic regulations taht prevent this from being tried out.

First problem: It's persionalized. More like surgery than a drug treatment.

n.n said...

Ironically, it was the development of theistic philosophies that established a separation of logical domains, and theistic religions that established a moral order, that were prerequisites for the advancement of science (i.e. frame-based philosophy). The "dark ages" were asynchronous progressions that followed the ebb and flow of mortal gods and their pro-choice cults.

That said, the normalization of abortion rites and clinical cannibalism also plays a role in human evolution. It can be speculated whether it will lead to a constructive or destructive state, but there are not a few individuals who seek profits from recycled lives and renewable mortality.

coupe said...

I was watching the program on PBS called Finding Your Roots.

At the end of each segment they show the DNA of where that person came from.

More and more, we see a great mixture. Down through the ages, we see more and more cultures mixing. Asians, Blacks, Whites, Eskimos, Polynesians, etc, etc.

This was one of God's commands that we shouldn't let different animals breed together. It started with dogs, and now the Kardashians are doing it with humans.

It's bound to cause cancer.

Eric said...

Depends on your health insurance. I currently am using a biologic, and it costs $2400 for one month of syringes.

But is it a custom biologic? I suspect this treatment is at least a couple orders of magnitude more expensive.

Bill said...

As a Stage IV cancer survivor (melanoma), I can thank similar research done at that National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) for my life. Although my research protocol used my own T-cells (the ones that were trying to attack the cancerous cells), I know other patients who actually had their T-cells genetically engineered to express different proteins. Some of these other patients are also in their own durable remissions.

A lot of the fundamental research into this approach to immunotherapy against cancers can be credited to Dr. Steven Rosenberg, who certainly is worth of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Quaestor said...

Togas wrote: If karma was truly a thing, the luddites in the anti-GMO crowd would not be allowed to partake in this treatment.

My thoughts exactly. Beware! It's the Franken-cure!

tim in vermont said...

You have to hand it to coupe, he tries one gambit to turn this feel good story into a hate fest, gets beaten back and tries another gambit.

MikeR said...

I'm finding coupe's comments totally bizarre. Medical treatment. Reminds me of the Catholic Church's religious response to Galileo. Medical treatment, coupe.

Bobby said...

coupe,

"In 1850, if a man lived to be 40, you were doing good. By 1900, people started living to age 50. By 1940 it was 60, and by 1980 it was 70.

Women, statistically did better at each stage of change.

You could say then, that life has artificially been extended by 40 years. Your typical human is designed to function for 40 years and die.

If you go past 40 years, then yes, the body starts to rot on the bone.
"

This is an example of someone not knowing how to read statistics.

Just so you know, the heavy lifting behind the increasing lifespan over the last two centuries was actually done by reducing infant mortality rates (and for women, reduced maternity mortality rates). For most humans who survived past infancy through childhood into adulthood, they lived- on average- to be much longer than 40. Much longer than 40 years. The reason our average lifespan has surged to almost double what it once was is because we have far, far fewer dead 0 and 1 year olds bringing down the national average. We have always had old people amongst us, and while yes, we have in fact extended the "old age years" of those who live into old age, it's not by the margin that you are presenting.

So, no, the typical human was not designed to function for 40 years and die.

tim in vermont said...

This is an example of someone not knowing how to read statistics.

You didn't just call coupe a liberal did you?

campy said...

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre

Does this count as a microaggression by the BBC?

amielalune said...

Coupe: The US taxpayers are paying $2400 per month to keep you alive??? Are you over 40??

eric said...


Patience, eric, patience. At least let him get up to speed on what "average lifespan" means before taxing him with updating his history.


Yeah, I read that and thought, he can't really beliege that. He is just trolling us.


Wasn't even the obstacle back then.

I know, but in order not to start another argument about history and send the whole thing off the rails, I conceded the claim to focus more on today. But yes, you're right. And most people don't even know who Ptolemy was. They think Colombus discovered the world wasn't flat.

eric said...

Just so you know, the heavy lifting behind the increasing lifespan over the last two centuries was actually done by reducing infant mortality rates (and for women, reduced maternity mortality rates). For most humans who survived past infancy through childhood into adulthood, they lived- on average- to be much longer than 40. Much longer than 40 years. The reason our average lifespan has surged to almost double what it once was is because we have far, far fewer dead 0 and 1 year olds bringing down the national average. We have always had old people amongst us, and while yes, we have in fact extended the "old age years" of those who live into old age, it's not by the margin that you are presenting.

So, no, the typical human was not designed to function for 40 years and die.


This is what Anglelyne was saying, more succinctly.

Interestingly enough, this is used in reverse today. Countries like Cuba have a longer lifespan (not really) because they don't count the infant deaths. Yet many people believe it without any deeper thought.

coupe said...

amielalune said...Are you over 40?

Just turned 62, so I'm waiting for my first social security check! Whoo-Hoo!

It's not trolling, it's Humour Noir...

Owen said...

Campy at 2/16/2016 5:20: "Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre

Does this count as a microaggression by the BBC?"

I think it's a cultural appropriation. If we don't object to the spelling, the intellectual property in this medical advance will automatically vest in the NHS.

Writ Small said...

As if Hillary's NH performance wasn't enough. What excuse does Biden have now for not getting in the race?

gadfly said...

Now what will all those people depending upon the Luekemia & Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Cancer Research Institute, Children's Cancer Research Fund, et al do for a living?

I suppose that the General Services Administration GS SL/ST jobs will have to grow from the 1000 positions now available. I understand the EPA is looking for Climate Scientists to affirm that the science is settled.

Alex said...

Faster please.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhythm and Balls said...

Lol. You actually use the word "cure" - a total rookie mistake.

At best we use the term "long-term remission". The term "cure" will be used once there are treatments that are 100% effective for the duration of patients' lives.

Very few cancers come close to this level of response to treatment.

Cancers are made up of changes in things called "genes" that are at work in "cells". Cells and genes are very small, very numerous things so the likelihood that any treatment has removed all the faulty cancerous or pre-cancerous forms is exceedingly small.

Oshbgosh said...

It's early innings in an extra inning ball game. One of the treatment side effects was death in some patients. Somewhat severe as side effects go and therefore of high interest to trial lawyers. No sane company would be able to bring this technology to market given the potential tort damages.

Rhythm and Balls said...

British medical research (cf. Wakefield, Lancet) is almost as hilarious as the BBC. I can't find any response rate numbers, other than the "90%". 90% of how fucking many? Hello? Statistical significance, anyone?

If you're looking for a better lay person's overview of the more exciting/interesting recent breakthroughs, check them out on Vice. Unfortunately they removed the free full-length story, but here it is if you're up for a $1.99 fee. Those ideas relate to what the awful BBC attempted to report. Reworking the immune system to attack tumors is the hot new ticket.

Michael K said...

"In 1850, if a man lived to be 40, you were doing good."

Far too many people do not understand statistics. My great grandfather had 9 sons and 3 daughters. The only one who did not live into his 80s was Giles who was kicked in the head by a horse at about 40.

Infant mortality wildly influenced "life expectancy." Cigarette smoking probably also censored the male population at around 70.

My mother lived to 103 and had a tracheostomy on the kitchen table as a small child when diphtheria was killing her.

Cancer is not one disease and the lymphocytic leukemia results are terrific. I was a medical student when the first 5 year survivors of acute leukemia of childhood were appearing in the hematology clinic. It was a magical time. I saw a woman in the GYN clinic as a student who was the first survivor of choriocarcinoma which is a cancer of the fetus, not the mother and was 100 % fatal in months.

Now it is 90% curable. The male form is not curable because it is not from the fetus, another individual with different genes.

I wrote my memoir about the changes I have seen.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Per Vice, the Yanks have been working on this, too.

Michael K said...

"Reworking the immune system to attack tumors is the hot new ticket."

Don Morton did a bunch of research at UCLA on this in the 70s and had to retract a bunch of papers that were far too optimistic.

Still, melanoma has many spontaneous remissions and immunity is the only explanation.

Eric said...

My great-greats all lived into their 80s as well, except for a branch of my mother's family which collectively drank itself to death.

MaxedOutMama said...

It also put a bunch of them in intensive care and killed some. This needs fine-tuning, although if you are going to die anyway.... But right now, not a very safe treatment.

The only thing we hear about this is that seven landed in intensive care and two died from the "cure". How many patients? 20? 40?

Right now, unless you were terminal you would have to go with the standard treatment, because this is a kill-or-cure.

And the "cures" are really remissions. Hopefully long-term, but I guess they will have to wait and see.

Original Mike said...

"Don Morton did a bunch of research at UCLA on this in the 70s and had to retract a bunch of papers that were far too optimistic."

Is that why he turned to the veer-offense? (Wisconsin joke)

PBandJ_LeDouanier said...

Thankfully a non-gov-supported company based in conservative Mississippi is around to make this sort of discovery. Shkreli et. al. will save us!

But seriously, in addition to being good a research, Fred H looks pretty smart to have staked a claim before Amazon decided to soak up about 10 million square feet, literally, in the neighborhood.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Don Morton...

Do yourself a favor and watch the Vice video, if you can. These "90%" response/remission? rates seem to be a common feature. At Penn, MD Anderson, Mayo, etc., they're re-engineering all sorts of viruses to do the trick... an external vector analogy to what the other researchers are doing to re-engineer T-cells. As for the link between not only immunity (which was known for a while) but actual infection and cancer, observations date back to at least a hundred years or so, IIRC. Apparently they would notice better cancer recovery/response rates in patients who had also been afflicted with a severe infection. Infection would not necessarily just "prime" the immune system for more robust, simultaneous anti-cancer responses, but somehow "unmask" mechanisms that the cancer was using to evade immune detection. At least, that's what I remember from the latest explanations on how the re-engineered viral anti-cancer vaccines were working.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Ah, right. That's the name for it. "Viral oncolytic therapy. (Wiki, I know. Sorry, but it's always a fun starting point for an over view. When you go to the "history" section, it starts with this, summarized as follows:

A connection between cancer regression and viruses has long been theorized, and case reports of regression (cervical cancer, Burkitt lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma) after immunization or infection with an unrelated virus appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.

Pretty cool.

Mark Caplan said...

The approach appears to work on blood cancers -- leukemia -- but not so far on solid tumors. The side effects of the immunotherapy killed two patients, and sent many others into intensive care. Also, the types of cancers that immunotherapy put into remission are normally curable with less exotic therapies.

http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2016/02/16/immunotherapy-cancer-cure-headlines-distract-from-fascinating-science/

Rhythm and Balls said...

Thanks Mark.

There should never be a reason to link to BBC news. Not one. They are uniquely bad. Whatever you're linked to, GOOGLE it first and then re-read the story on any other media you find, preferably American and especially if it's a science story. A media company that specializes in science is preferred above even that - Nat Geo, Scientific American, The Scientist, New Scientist, Discover Magazine, even.

But for God's sake, for the love of everything decent, never, never ever link to or rely on what you read in BBC. They do good dramatic productions every now and then, history shows and shows about the wonder of British forests, etc. But beyond that you're about as likely to find something as useful as you are in a tunnel in Gaza, a place that contains other holes into which they love to peer and then come out of with their heads now fully up their asses.

Michael K said...

"At least, that's what I remember from the latest explanations on how the re-engineered viral anti-cancer vaccines were working."

Oh, I think the solution will be genetics and most viral engineering is actually affecting genes.

The New England Journal had a huge article on genetics of melanoma recently.

Precursor lesions were initiated by mutations of genes that are known to activate the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway. Unequivocally benign lesions harbored BRAF V600E mutations exclusively, whereas those categorized as intermediate were enriched for NRAS mutations and additional driver mutations. A total of 77% of areas of intermediate lesions and melanomas in situ harbored TERT promoter mutations, a finding that indicates that these mutations are selected at an unexpectedly early stage of the neoplastic progression. Biallelic inactivation of CDKN2A emerged exclusively in invasive melanomas. PTEN and TP53 mutations were found only in advanced primary melanomas. The point-mutation burden increased from benign through intermediate lesions to melanoma, with a strong signature of the effects of ultraviolet radiation detectable at all evolutionary stages. Copy-number alterations became prevalent only in invasive melanomas. Tumor heterogeneity became apparent in the form of genetically distinct subpopulations as melanomas progressed.

They could predict which melanomas would spread ! The next step is to figure out how to turn off that gene.

Karen of Texas said...

Because we all have health care now, right? Right.

The advances to be made in the medical field are astonishing with our ever expanding 'gene knowledge/manipulation'. The potentential for personalized medical care - something that the vaccine adverse might truly get behind - could become a reality. IF we can afford it; and IF there isn't a 'shortage'.

Wonder what makes it unaffordable? What causes a shortage? Hmmm...

cubanbob said...

We aren't going to cure death anytime soon but id this pans out, thank God for it. Perhaps we will be able to substantially compress the morbidity while lengthening the lifespan. To live to 100 with the health and mental acuity of a 75 year old that is in great mental shape and good physical shape would be a wonder and a miracle. One can hope.

David said...

Maybe a cure for A cancer, or ultimately for several. But if you really like diversity, look at cancer.

In the bad news department, Pat Conroy, our hometown hero, has revealed that he has pancreatic cancer and is at M.D. Anderson.

David said...

amielalune said...
Coupe: The US taxpayers are paying $2400 per month to keep you alive??? Are you over 40??


Paying a lot more for me. But it's dropping, all the way from "stratospheric" to "egads!!" (As of this February it dropped from $10,000 a month to $3000 a month. Generic competition.)

I kid you not.

You will never hear me complain about "entitlements."

Owen said...

Michael K: your generosity with knowledge, especially medical knowledge, is much appreciated.

I agree with this: "Oh, I think the solution will be genetics and most viral engineering is actually affecting genes." Makes sense.

But cost is an issue unless we can scale these innovations. Genetic "surgery" in one patient at a time will not get us there.

sparrow said...

"Statistical significance, anyone? "

Stat evidence is the weakest kind of associative evidence and it only applies to populations that are comparable. Cancers , as said above, are diverse so the assumptions required for broad application are questionable. This month online Nature Genetics has a couple of short articles about p-values, power analysis and confidence intervals. The advice is not to rely too much on stats. They are helpful indications but insufficient on their own. It's the remission of metastatic cancer that matters. There have been successes before on melanoma studies. When this works it's an authentic cure but it's still sporadic.

sparrow said...

The articles at Nature Genetics are very short and not technical; most anybody who's taken an undergrad stat class could follow it.

Scott M said...

If we're not careful, Will Smith will end up alone in New York City.

damikesc said...

Having watched "I Am Legend", I'll note that the zombie outbreak was started by a cure for cancer.

Be afraid.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Stat evidence is the weakest kind of associative evidence and it only applies to populations that are comparable.

Please make sure you never do medical research. Or better yet, try it out and watch yourself get pilloried like any other disreputable hack once you declare that a result seen in ten people means that it will hold in ten thousand and more.

Kiru said...

I've been following this research for the last few years. It is nothing short of amazing, and has a literal "made for TV" experiment in one of the first treatment trials. (Emily Whitehead, a 6 year old who had leukemia and is now in 'complete remission')

Due to the fundamental nature of what we group together under the heading 'cancer', we're not going to find a fundamental 'cure for (all) cancer' anytime soon, but for some forms of previously fatal cancer, this is fantastic news.