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 : http://goo.gl/7SWVN
• 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.