Viral Vectors Versus Viral Video: This video, going viral on G+, documents the case of a 7 year old girl with acute…

Viral Vectors Versus Viral Video: This video, going viral on G+, documents the case of a 7 year old girl with acute leukemia who was cured of her cancer last year, apparently by pitting one disease (cancer) with another (HIV-AIDS)! Breathless science enthusiasts are marveling at the justice of curing cancer with HIV!

• Actually, HIV is simply being used as a “vector” or carrier for gene therapy because it naturally binds to receptors on the target cells, in this case, T cells. Researchers can use different viruses to target different cells by matching infectious viruses with their natural hosts. Of course, only the viral shell is used, with viral genes being replaced by the genes of choice; that is, the virus is crippled, and cannot cause disease (AIDS).

• The idea is to introduce a gene (“chimeric antigen receptor”) into immune T cells that would make them seek out and destroy the cancer cells. The T cells are removed from the patient, the gene is introduced into them via the modified HIV carrier, and then injected back into the patient. More recently, this method was used with heartwarming success on adults with leukemia for whom chemotherapy failed :

• Sensationalistic titles, such as Fighting Fire with Fire are misleading and unnecessary. The HIV carrier is the least interesting part of the story, in my opinion. T cell therapy is promising and newsworthy without the hype.



This entry was posted in Rajini Rao and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to Viral Vectors Versus Viral Video: This video, going viral on G+, documents the case of a 7 year old girl with acute…

  1. E.E. Giorgi says:

    I totally agree with your last point. Yes, it is cool. But it’s no longer HIV, and calling it such is misleading. It’s just its principle that’s being used here. 

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Elena. Cancer immunotherapy is really cool (my student who just graduated is now working with the group at Memorial Sloan Kettering on this project). The problem is that a lot of people are thinking that the HIV is what is curing patients of cancer, when actually it is gene therapy that is doing the job.

  3. Andres Soolo says:

    E.E. Giorgi: It’s basic journalism.  You generalise point A, you generalise point B, you get two seemingly contradicting points because you got rid of the special cases, and you’ll have a sensational headline that will sell a lot of stuff even if it’s incorrect.  Every journalist who has attended a clown school knows how to do this.

    “Fight fire with fire” would have worked just as well when Jenner invented vaccination.

  4. “All the News That’s Print to Fit”  — with the media’s insatiable cash flow needs, this “hook” isn’t terribly surprising.  But if it at least piques sufficient in the science underneath it all, I’m afraid that’s the price required.  Let’s hope, at least, that other vector cures arise from this, regardless of the public clamor.

  5. I had stayed away from this video mostly because of its sensationalism. Thanks Rajini Rao for taking time to explain what was actually going on. Science is so much more enjoyable when it’s explained calmly but with a sense of wonder. Like Sagan did.

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    Delighted that this helped, Suhail Manzoor ! We use viral vectors to deliver genes to cells all the time in a lab setting. But there are some risks involved when treating patients with modified viruses and the method is still being perfected. In this case, the cells were removed from the patient before the virus was used on them, so the patient was never exposed to the virus directly.

  7. Rajini Rao That’s a brilliant idea. Using a retrovirus to invade and attack faulty cells has been around since the 80s but no one was sure it could be achieved. This is amazing.  

  8. This girl lives in a neighboring town from where I live. It’s funny because I didn’t realize it was her when I watched the video the first time. Amazingly the local papers did not run with the whole HIV thing. It’s been reported locally as T cell therapy. Regardless of how it was done. It’s a pretty big deal around here because she is doing so well.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Unfortunately, the hook used in this video puts the focus of the story on the wrong part of it, William McGarvey . I checked on the shares of this video on G+ and most people were just blown away with the apparent “justice” of fighting evil with evil, which is a completely incorrect representation of the science. As David Amerland said, viral vectors have been around for decades. There’s even a nice Wiki page on it, if anyone is interested:

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for noticing, Víktor Bautista i Roca 😉

  11. Jim Carver says:

    Rajini Rao Is it because the HIV carrier binds to T cells the reason this is a good choice and could another carrier be used?

  12. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, that’s exactly right Jim Carver . HIV normally infects T cells so it’s a good choice. Other labs have used other viruses I believe. 

  13. Jim Carver says:

    Thanks. 🙂

    I would suspect that this would lead to other avenues for the treatment of auto immune system dysfunctional diseases.

    Like maybe AIDS itself?

  14. Chad Haney says:

    Thanks Rajini Rao. I worked with a group that had gene therapy for cancer (TNFerade) which worked great in mice but not in humans. I was going to tackle this video with my experience with TNFerade, combined with commentary on the exciting CD47 work at Stanford.

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the link, Chad Haney .  If you do a post on this, I’ll link to it here. 

    (My former student Mingye Feng is now in Irving Weissman’s group at Stanford, where this anti-CD47 therapy is being pursued 

  16. Chad Haney says:

    Will do Rajini Rao. My list of potential science posts keeps getting longer. I hate to just post a link or quote the article. Lately I’ve been too busy or burnt out to put enough substance into my science posts. BTW, I’m glad you liked the babies with headphones from last weekend.

  17. Rajini Rao says:

    Same here, Chad Haney . We try to be perfectionists about the posts and end up not doing one at all..I know the feeling 🙂

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    +100 for Freddie 🙂

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Ali Adelstein ! 

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    Hilary Anderson Ripka , I missed your comment. Great to know that the young survivor is still doing well ❤

  21. Rajini Rao Why was the HIV virus used as a vector precisely ? It almost seems for exploiting its two worst features, the ones that have not yet allowed to find a suitable vaccine against AIDS: the ease of mutation and capability to insert their own genetic material into the host cell’s DNA to make it copy. Is it possible?

  22. Jim Carver says:

    annarita ruberto I think if you re-read the header and the comments…you can answer your own question. 🙂

  23. Michael R K says:

    So much hope…love this store

  24. If there were only more hours in the day to be able to learn the details of how all these new medical technologies are helping. Thanks for your medical/science updates Rajini Rao 

  25. Rajini Rao says:

    I agree, not enough hours Cheryl Ann MacDonald 🙂

    annarita ruberto , viruses are engineered to carry genes into cells because they are naturally designed to do just that. In this case, HIV was chosen as a carrier because it can infect T cells and insert the gene to kill cancer cell into them. None of the genes required for HIV to cause AIDS were present, so this altered virus is serving as a carrier. Hope that make sense. 

  26. Chad Haney says:

    For TNFerade that I mentioned above, an adenovirus is used, which causes cold in the wild (for those that don’t know).

  27. Jim Carver says:

    annarita ruberto “A virus floating around an enclosed space with possible host cells faces a large hurdle, the thermodynamics of diffusion. Because neutrally charged objects do not naturally clump around each other, the virus must find a way to move even near a host cell. It does this by attachment — or adsorption — onto a susceptible cell; a cell which holds a receptor that the virus can bind to. The receptors on the viral envelope effectively become connected to complementary receptors on the cell membrane. This attachment causes the two membranes to remain in mutual proximity, favoring further interactions between surface proteins. This is also the first requisite that must be satisfied before a cell can become infected. Satisfaction of this requisite makes the cell susceptible. Viruses that exhibit this behavior include many enveloped viruses such as HIV and Herpes simplex virus

    This basic idea extends to viruses that do not contain an envelope. Well studied examples are the viruses that infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages or simply phages. Typical phages have long tails used to attach to receptors on the bacterial surface.”

  28. Ohh! HIV was just a vehicle to carry the required gene to be carried into T Cells, that could kill cancer cells! That’s marvelous.

  29. Thanks Rajini Rao , as always, your descriptions manage to explain things in a way that most people can understand. I have also been concerned with the way this news has been presented, and even wondered how long it would be before we hear some terrible story about a person deliberately infecting themselves because they think HIV cures cancer. 

  30. Jim Carver says:

    Shannan Muskopf Could be, no accounting for ignorance.

    One of my comments got un-noticed though. What if you could transfer the proper genes to T cells through the vehicle of the HIV shell to cure AIDS? Now that would win you the Nobel Prize.

    The headline reads: “HIV virus cures AIDS” , that would send them for a loop.

  31. Jim Carver says:

    Merry Welly I doubt there would be a list since this is barely of the drawing table.

    I would contact the institution from which this procedure was done would be my first option.

    Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

  32. Chad Haney says:

    Merry Welly it is not readily available. I don’t even know if Memorial Sloan-Kettering is in Phase III clinical trials.

    So far I believe it’s only been used to treat leukemia and lymphomas.

  33. Jim Carver says:

    Chad Haney According to the video, these patients are terminal unless something is tried. She almost died after the treatment.

  34. Jim Carver says:

    I finally got up the gumption to read the abstract. Oh boy, you have to be a biologist to parse that.

  35. Chad Haney says:

    Or a bioengineer.

  36. Rajini Rao Thanks for the clarification. Personally, I had mixed feelings on seeing the video last week. Has the study been completed, published and peer reviewed? If not, why have they released a video now? Is it an investment vehicle? How many patients were in the trial and how many successes? Sorry to be wary and clearly I would be delighted if everything was above board. I did blub, though – it was impossible not to 🙂

  37. Chad Haney says:

    Mike McLoughlin I think 5 patients were treated. I don’t think it’s a clinical trial yet. As Jim Carver mentioned, these were terminal patients with nothing left to try.

  38. Sunil Bajpai says:

    Rajini Rao, By when can we expect such therapy to become widely available as the first choice? It should dramatically improve outcomes, reduce the duration of hospital stay, reduce trauma or loss of healthy tissue, leave no scars, etc.

  39. The meaning is clear. Thank you!:) Rajini Rao 

  40. Jean Liss says:

    I love CHOP & U Penn. I know quite a few people who were treated there as children that had remarkable results. I even went to U Penn’s oncology/gynecology when I got sick as a senior in college. Long story short, they saved my plumbing when the local doctors were going to do a hysterectomy. Even when they aren’t doing cutting edge clinical trials, they are the best.

  41. The text  excerpted from wikipedia is very clear and responds to much of what I wanted to know. Thank you so much for having suggested it. Jim Carver 

  42. Rajini Rao Unfortunately you have to hype to reach the type…. The type that spends millions on magnetic bracelets and tunes in each and every week to see that Bigfoot doesn’t exist but that the forest is full of sounds and movement when you actually listen for it. Tell people that this is ancient alien technology and watch the funding go through the roof.

  43. Rajini Rao says:

    Hehe, I’ll try that on my next grant application Dirk Talamasca 🙂 

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    Merry Welly , you’re exactly right about the “cytokine storm” which follows T cell activation. That’s expected from the treatment and the patient is watched carefully during those few days of extremely high fever. Apparently, it’s also a sign that the T cells are active in removing the cancer cells.

    The aspect of these patients being in the terminal stage is only because the treatment is still experimental. Success stories such as these make it more likely that they will continue to offer this therapy. In the follow up story (NYT link), five patients were put on this therapy at MSKCC and one died during the bone marrow transplant that followed (so it was not directly connected to the T cell therapy).  

  45. Rajini Rao says:

    Merry Welly , that’s a good question. My guess, as a non-immunologist, is yes because cytokines act to stimulate more T cells (positive feedback). I’m tagging Deeksha Tare in case she is around.

  46. Rajini Rao says:

    Sagnik Sarkar , if you are referring to the HIV part of the point is that it is not “fire” at all and the title is misleading. Unless you refer to something else?

  47. Gaythia Weis says:

    I agree with you that scientists lose the public communication battle when sensationalist phrasing is used to describe new breakthroughs.

  48. Gian Ventura says:

    Long-term side effects is still unknown. For all we know, this could turn us into zombie!

  49. Mary T says:

    Excellent post Rajini Rao ~ wonderful to see a good outcome.

  50. Deeksha Tare says:

    Thanks for the tag Rajini Rao , and thanks for sharing this awesome


    Sorry I have been off and on G+lately.

    And I guess yes, it’s the interferons that recruit more T cells.  

  51. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes indeed, thank you for the link Kam-Yung Soh .

  52. I do believe I missed reading this. I did hear of a similar case (may or may not be related) but the virus in question was measles…

  53. Chad Haney says:

    Lacerant Plainer the measle virus story keeps getting misrepresented. I met one of the researchers, Dr. Peng, so I plan to write a post about what they really did and what the media says they did. It’s a good thing I have copious amounts of free time.

  54. LOL Chad Haney I hear ya. It gets pretty jam packed.

  55. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney , Lacerant Plainer , you’re right…it’s the same idea of virus-mediated gene therapy in that measles story. But measles itself does not cure cancer, any more than HIV does 😀

  56. Rajini Rao It seems like I’m seeing more and more misleading titles in the news media designed to just pull people into “the counter game”.  What I’ve been trying to do in my recent posts is to summarize complex stories to make them understandable.   What I want to do is to tell the story with the complexity it deserves while at the same time writing about why the development is so important.  I’ll also embed several clear related links.  I owe a great deal of credit to a wonderful multivariate statistics professor who made all of us write a “lab report” on what we were showing in each procedure and tell its story.  I’ve written recently about the Penn State/Novartis collaboration to bring a modified T-Cell Treatment To Market for Leukemia.  It takes a lot of time and review to write understandable and not overly simplified science journalism.   I want to thank you for bringing up this idea of headline and title hype. Accessible technical writing which stimulates interest is a huge challenge for our media today and in my mind, not being well addressed for the most part.

  57. Rajini Rao says:

    Frank Elliott thanks so much for your efforts in informing people about current research in your own words- that is a rare quality, much appreciated! I will be sharing out your posts through our Science Pages and communities. Could you do me a favor and add the hashtag #ScienceEveryday  and/or #ScienceSunday  to your science posts? This will make it easier for other members of the ScienceSunday team to find and reshare your posts. It would be great if you also shared your posts to the two large science communities here on G+. We need more good quality posts in place of the usual links to hyped up news stories. The advantage to sharing them there yourself is that you will be notified on any questions or comments (you may know this already, but you can alter your settings so that community shares do not show up as replicates, and clutter your stream). Cheers! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s