The “Smart Bomb” of Tomorrow – Eradicating Cancer

Imagine a world without chemotherapy. Imagine a world where cancer could be fought without side effects. Imagine a world where it didn’t matter how far along your cancer had progressed, treatment could still be rendered and completely effective.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article from a joint collaboration between several cancer centers on both the east and west coast. A 52 year-old man with stage IV malignant melanoma, a very aggressive and potentially lethal form of skin cancer, donated blood to the scientists who have developed a technique to isolate specific CD4+ T cells and clone them in vitro.

In our bodies, our immune system is responsible for attacking all cells that may pose a threat to our well-being, whether they be bacteria, viruses, foreign bodies, or even cancerous cells. Each T cell is responsible for recognizing a specific cell line which is potentially threatening, then targeting (where the “T” comes from) those cells for destruction by the production of antibodies, and large vacuum cleaner-type cells called macrophages. The trouble with cancer is that the cells are multiplying very rapidly, and there are only a few circulating T cells which are specific to that cancerous cell line. Therefore the cancerous cells overwhelm our ability to tag them fast enough, and the cancer grows and spreads.

What the scientists in this study have done is isolate the T cells which are targeted towards the malignant melanoma. Then they used a chemical and biological process to multiply those T cells several thousands of times over. Finally, they injected those thousands of T cells back into the patient, and let them go to work. Now there were so many T cells compared to cancerous cells, that tagging them was easy and the body was naturally able to break down the cancer using its own immune system. The man went into complete remission and has stayed there for the past two years.

The beauty and elegance of this new technique is that scientists are augmenting our body’s inherent ability to fight cancer. Because the patient was injected with his own T cells, there was no threat of rejection, and no side effects whatsoever. Additionally, by unleashing the patient’s immune system he was able to attack cancer cells wherever they were in his body, rather than just the primary site. It doesn’t matter if the cancer is multiplying in the lungs, in the brain, on skin, or in lymph nodes. As long as there is a blood supply, the body is able to fight back and win.

This technology is still a long way off from being implemented in the mainstream, but it definitely holds promise as a new tool in the fight against cancer.


Hunder, N.N., Wallen, H., Cao, J., Hendricks, D.W., Reilly, J.Z., Rodmyre, R., Jungbluth, A., Gnjatic, S., Thompson, J.A., Yee, C. (2008). Treatment of Metastatic Melanoma with Autologous CD4+ T Cells against NY-ESO-1. New England Journal of Medicine, 358(25), 2698-2703. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0800251

  • It’s interesting, to me it suggest a reason why some people/cultures don’t get cancer: they have strong immune systems. This type of treatment only works on specific cancers though.

  • Indeed, the technique this particular study used to isolate the T-cells for melanoma requires the scientists to have a “prefabricated” copy of the specific DNA code complete with cancerous defect. At this time, we only have the correct sequencing done for a handful of cancerous cell types.

    With the work being done on the Human Genome Project, I would expect us to steadily increase the number of cancer types amenable to this method over the next 10-15 years. In addition, other techniques for immunomodulation are being researched which work on the same principle.

  • what promotes cancer cells to multiply very rapidly and in disorganised manner?-DNA damage
    what causes DNA damage?-free radicals
    how to counter these free radicals?.-antioxidants

    I think we need to look into basics. rather then targeting the sites with ‘augmented’ T lymphocytes (when the normal cells already transformed into cancer cells!), would it be more appropriate when we target the DNA itself ie protecting them from attacks of free radicals?

    One interesting molecule associated with cancer is nuclear factor-kappa beta (NFKB). NFKB is like a ‘smoke censor’ that trigger & promote cancer progression in the presence of excessive free radicals (oxidative stress). hence, nutrients that inhibit NFKB may hold promise in the area of cancer research

    further info:

  • Daniel Lende

    Fascinating research. Two strands to the comments so far, the need for prevention and improving this and other types of treatment (nanotechnology for more effective chemo treatment comes to mind). Working with the body’s own processes, for both prevention and treatment, is definitely the wave of the future.

    The only thing I might add is that these sorts of developments then place even more onus on making sure everyone has access to treatment, both inside and outside the US. And that’s a social and political problem that will, in all likelihood, mean some people never get access to the very developments that could save their lives.

  • I hope this scales and has a quick enough turn-around time to work!
    Think of the advantages over chemotherapy!

  • Pingback: nosugrefneb | Cancer Research Blog Carnival, 12th Edition()

Sajid Surve, DO

Sajid Surve, DO, is a physiatrist, acupuncturist, and osteopath who specializes in musculoskeletal medicine and integrative medicine.

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