Living Drugs: Using Your Own Blood to Fight Cancer

Living Drugs: Using Your Own Blood to Fight Cancer

It has been said that our immune system is powerful enough to fight any disease. How conventional medicine is irrelevant and only suppresses the eventual ability a human system can tap into to surpass any pharmaceutical.

This, of course, is only a theory as conventional medicine continues to save millions of lives daily. However, scientists are beginning to embrace immunotherapy techniques that may take the theory of natural healing to a whole new level.

Immunotherapy is, according to The National Cancer Institute (NCI), “a type of biological therapy [] that uses substances made from living organisms to treat cancer.”

Recently, using a person’s own blood to grow into a disease fighting army able to destroy tumors is showing promise. Ken Shefveland of Vancouver, Washington is one patient in an experimental blood immunotherapy study that has experienced surprising success. He was riddled with lymphoma and after treatment said, “the cancer was just melting away” and “Today I find out I’m in full remission, how wonderful is that?”

Releasing the Brakes

Using blood immunotherapy, specific markers that become suppressed when cancer takes over can be unlocked. One approach involves the manipulation of T-cells, the immune system’s fighter squadron. These have a difficult time recognizing cancer cells because cancer is notorious for being able to blend in and avoid a T-cell assault. So essentially, in many cancer cases, the army sees no problem as the enemy consumes everything around it.

However, recent research shows that by using immunotherapy drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors,” the brakes that the cancer seems to put on T-cell function are released, enabling the T-cells to spot the cancer and attack.

Taking this therapy further has shown significant results, such as in Ken Shefveland’s case. New research is attempting to increase the strength of T-cells so they can override cancer suppressing cells before they even get a chance to takeover. These are supercharged immune cells.

Supercharged Immune Cells

With cancer killing approximately 600,000 Americans per year, which also includes 45,000 dying from leukemia and lymphoma, there is a desperate need for anything that remotely works at giving someone a chance. This is why researchers are experimenting with supercharged immune cells by unleashing them into the bloodstream. These supercharged cells use the hosts T-cells which are significantly increased in the lab.

One process is called adoptive cell transfer (ACT) which harnesses the patient’s immune cells and helps them recognize cancers. NCI describes the ACT application for development of CAR-T cells,

“After collection, the T cells are genetically engineered to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CARs are proteins that allow the T cells to recognize a specific protein (antigen) on tumor cells. These engineered CAR T cells are then grown in the laboratory until they number in the billions.”

Several notable physicians have had hopeful words regarding recent developments of this living drug stating,

“It shows the unbelievable power of your immune system,” said Dr. David Maloney, Hutchinson Cancer Research Center medical director for cellular immunotherapy

“We’re talking, really, patients who have no other options, and we’re seeing tumors and leukemias disappear over weeks,” immunotherapy scientific director, Dr. Stanley Riddell.

“Our data provide the first true glimpse of the potential of this approach in patients with aggressive lymphomas that, until this point, were virtually untreatable,” Dr. James Kochenderfer, M.D., and NCI colleague.

Looking at the Big Picture

As with any new research it is always important to look at the big picture of future progress. This means that work has to continue to ensure that the treatment is safe. Several obstacles can arise when T-cells are manipulated which could create uncomfortable to life threatening side effects.

Therefore it is imperative to monitor lab results closely so as not to stop the study in its tracks before it has a chance to do any good. Some of the handful of test subjects remain cancer-free to this day however not all responded the same.

Stephan Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the lead investigator of a trial testing CAR T cells primarily in children with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) commented,

“We need to treat more patients and have longer follow-up to really say what the impact of this therapy is [and] to understand its true performance characteristics,”

Keep an eye on blood immunotherapy as some feel this is the beginning of a cancer breakthrough that just may save millions of lives when no hope is in sight. Tapping into the body’s immune system offers a wide variety of possibilities that address the root cause rather than the symptoms.