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A recently published paper showed that mice with colon cancer can be “vaccinated” with human embryonic stem cells and have a significant immune response against the cancer (Li et al., 2009). Cancerous tumors and embryonic tissues have been found to share many of the same antigens, which are detected by the immune system through antibodies.
Interestingly, this state of immune tolerance is similar to what happens during pregnancy, and, more specifically, it’s been found that the body’s response to a tumor is very similar to its response to embryonic tissues. The first published suggestion that tumors may have an embryonic nature came in the early 1800s (Muller, 1838).
Recently, many papers have come out that highlight connections between cancer and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the latter of which was discussed previously. Cancer stem cells (CSCs), as their name implies, are stem cells that have been discovered to reside within cancerous tumors. Although the theory of cancer stem cells has been around since the 1970s (Hamburger and Salmon, 1977), recently it has gained a spotlight in the scientific community. The different populations within a tumor can be separated and identified according to the proteins expressed (or produced) on the surface of a particular cell; cells expressing the same set of proteins are grouped into one population. University of Pennsylvania doctors have achieved, in a handful of patients, one of the holy grails of cancer research: getting the patient's own immune system to attack cancer cells.
In the quest to find a cure for cancer, one dream of researchers has been to find a way to get the body's own immune system to fight cancer.
On Sunday and Monday, at at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology, some doctors at the University of Pennsylvania reported promising results doing just that.


Even more surprisingly, they reprogrammed the immune systems of their cancer patients using a disabled form of the HIV virus. Other cancer centers, such as the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, are also experimenting with this novel treatment. The treatment first removes millions of the patients own T-cells and then introduce genes that give T-cells the ability to kill cancer cells. What usually happens right after the new T-cells are introduced is that the patient comes down with high fevers and chills, technically called cytokine-release syndrome, but called "shake and bake" by the doctors. In this phase, Emma also had a steep drop in blood pressure, her temperature hit 105 and she ended up on a ventilator, swollen beyond recognition.
So far, three adults suffering from chronic leukemia have been treated and are in complete remission (two of them for more than two years). Though the treatment does not have perfect results, cancer experts not working on this research say that it is promising because it has worked in cases where there were no other options.
The only drawbacks so far are price and one side effect: Unlike traditional drugs, this treatment requires a new batch of T-cells to be created for each patient, which has a price tag of about $20,000 per patient. Can Halle Freyssinet, world's largest incubator, seal France's place in tech startup major league? Rowland, the author of All Things Stem Cell, recently started a general biology column with The Santa Barbara Independent. And, one of their success stories is in a child -- a girl now age 7, whose cancer has been in remission for seven months.


Last year, she had relapsed twice after chemotherapy and doctors, having run out of options, tried an experimental treatment that uses a disabled form of HIV to get Emma's own immune system to kill cancer cells. What causes this reaction are natural chemicals pouring out of the cells in the immune system. When everyone had nearly given up hope, the doctors saw that the level of one of her cytokines, interleukin-6, or IL-6, had spiked. Four adults improved but are not in full remission, and in two adults the treatment did not work at all. Michel Sadelain, who does similar work at the Sloan-Kettering Institute, put it, “These T-cells are living drugs. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Carl June, head of the research team at the University of Pennsylvania, said he hoped that this new treatment would eventually replace bone-marrow transplants, which are extremely risky and expensive.
The other downside is that the treatment kills off healthy B-cells as well as the cancerous ones, so the patients need regular immune treatments in order to prevent other types of illness.



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