A Utah man’s leukemia is in remission thanks, in part, to the HIV virus.
Marshall Jensen was diagnosed with an often deadly blood and bone marrow cancer called acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2012, reports local Utah news channel KSL. He and his wife spent the next three years traveling across the country in search of a cure, but his cancer kept returning despite several surgeries and treatments.
Then they heard about the groundbreaking, experimental work of Dr. Carl H. June, an immunotherapy researcher at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. June has dedicated his career to researching how to defeat otherwise incurable cancer, and he does it with a disabled form of the HIV virus.
In this case, June extracted billions of Jensen's T-cells (immune cells), inserted a specially engineered form of the HIV virus into each cell, and then put them back in Jensen’s body. The new genetic material transformed Jensen’s T-Cells into what June called “serial killers,” capable of findings and killing the cancer in Jensen’s body.
He described some of the risks of the experimental therapy in a 2013 interview with the Cancer Research Institute. One short-term risk includes the fact that, because the T-cell therapy works so well, patients' bodies are suddenly forced to deal with pounds and pounds of dead cancer tumor cells.
"During this time the patients all have high fever, usually 103 to 104 degrees," June described. "They feel like they’ve had the worst flu of their lifetime." More long-term risks are the unknowns that come with permanently altering the genetic makeup of a patient's cells.
"Any time you do a “cut-and-paste” on DNA in cells, it could lead to some unknown risk of tumor in the cells that are genetically modified," said June. "We’re following the patients for this, and so far there have been no side effects that we’ve not anticipated." Only a small handful of patients have been able to undergo the experimental therapy.