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HIV Virus Used In New Treatment to Cure Leukemia

In a remarkable new cancer treatment, doctors have modified the HIV virus into a harmless form to fight leukemia.


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The HIV virus is much-feared—but despite the damage the disease has done, the virus has a great capacity for healing as well. In a remarkable new cancer treatment, doctors have modified the HIV virus into a harmless form to fight leukemia.

In the experiment at University of Pennsylvania, doctors removed certain types of white blood cells from three patients suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a disease that strikes 15,000 people in the U.S. each year, and is only occasionally curable through a bone marrow transplant. The researchers used the modified HIV virus to insert genes into the blood cells that would make the blood cells multiply and kill the cancer cells. The doctors then injected the blood cells back into the patients.

The genetic engineering treatment had a dramatic impact: The leukemia was cured completely in two of the patients, and was reduced by 70 percent in the third.

Although the sample pool for this study is still small, it’s likely that the positive results will help the researchers raise grant money to continue studying this innovative treatment, which could bring great hope to leukemia patients.

One of the patients in the initial study, a scientist himself, was awestruck by the results. “I am still trying to grasp the enormity of what I am a part of —and of what the results will mean to countless others with CLL or other forms of cancer,” he wrote. “When I was a young scientist, like many I’m sure, I dreamed that I might make a discovery that would make a difference to mankind – I never imagined I would be part of the experiment.”

Filed under: Health and Wellbeing, Science,

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