Souped-Up Immune Cells Force Leukemia into Remission
Note: There is a YouTube video explaining the same story linked in Todd's comment below.
Scientists are working miracles with T-cells, and some of it is thanks to the HIV virus. AIDS, as you know, is an immune deficiency. It is caused by a virus that attacks T-cells, a major part of our immune system.
Scientists have captured the HIV virus, and they have made a slave of it. Viruses are how scientists got DNA into cells. We can't really put genes into DNA on our own, but putting genes in DNA is how viruses work. So scientists have disabled the HIV virus so it is not dangerous, but it can still weasel its way into T-cells. Viruses are almost nothing but snippets of DNA (it's questioned whether they qualify as "life"), and scientists add some DNA to the virus, then let the virus carry it into the cell.
If you want to fully understand the illustration below, you can read the following incomprehensible paragraphs. I thought, though, that we all might be able to understand the illustration a little just from the title of the extract.
"Schematic Representation of the Key Structural Features of SIV and HIV-1 Entry into T Cells"
(A) Different stages of viral entry from budding, to maturation, to entry claw formation. For the SIV strain used here, viruses that are docked to the cell via an entry claw show very few, if any, viral spikes on their surface, whereas non-contacting viruses typically display between 60 and 100 spikes on their surface. The entry claw is composed of between five to seven anchors spanning the region between the virus and the cell, each ∼100 Å long, and spaced laterally by ∼150 Å.
(B and C) Two alternative models for viral entry. In the global fusion model (B), the formation of the entry claw is followed by progressive fusion of the viral membrane across its width, leading to merger of the contents of the viral membrane with the cellular membrane. In the local fusion model (C), the formation of the entry claw is followed by the creation of a local pore centered at one of the rods, leading to delivery of the viral core into the cell."
By Rachid Sougrat, Alberto Bartesaghi, Jeffrey D. Lifson, Adam E. Bennett, Julian W. Bess, Daniel J. Zabransky, Sriram Subramaniam [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
As far as what I've read, scientists have been able to do two things with the HIV virus. In patients with Chronic Lymphoid Leukemia that would not respond to any conventional treatment, they engineered the patients T-cells to kill B-cells, which are another immune system cell. In these CLL patients, though, the B-cells are the ones that became cancerous, so when the T-cells killed the B-cells, they also cured the cancer.
The side effect is pretty major. Those patients will never have B-cells again, and they require immunoglobin injections to help boost their immune system. Nonetheless, their immune systems will be weak forever.
In the article above, the patients were Multiple Myeloma patients (related to leukemia because it is a blood cancer, but it is not leukemia despite the incorrect title of the article), and scientists engineered the T-cells to target the specific cancer cell causing the MM. They had some success putting the patients in remission, but since standard therapy was also being used, the power of the T-cell therapy is still unknown.
As an aside, Christian singer Carman Licciardello, who just goes by Carman on his albums, was recently diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. They told him his MM is incurable and that he'll die in 3 to 4 years. The article above applies directly to him.