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New cancer treatments using gene editing, Zika Virus are in the works

American Cancer Society
Dr. Andras Heczey, a pediatric oncologist, examines blood cells from a patient.
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COWETA Okla. - Cancer is nondiscriminatory. It will find you if you are old or young, black or white, rich or poor. Most of us will have a brush with it at some point in our lives, whether it’s a friend or family member or you yourself to be labeled with the fear-inducing diagnosis.

The American Cancer Society projects, based on current trends, that in 2017 there will be 1,688,780 new cancer patients and 600,920 deaths due to cancer.

Cancer is a disease where abnormal cell growths form in the body and interfere with normal, healthy body functions. The first cases of cancer date back to ancient Egypt. Mummies have been unearthed with cancer in their bones and papyrus scrolls describe treating breast cancer via cauterization.

Thankfully, we have moved past such treatment and even found two more treatments to add to the arsenal against cancer. One is using gene editing and the other uses, surprisingly, the Zika Virus.

Gene editing is just what it sounds like. It’s going into the patients’ genes and fixing any errors that cause cancer. This therapy is currently being used for leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells. Gene editing can also have further use in treating other diseases.

This new treatment is called CAR-T Therapy (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy) and was recently approved by the FDA. White blood cells are taken from the patient, the genes in the blood are edited to fight cancer and are replaced. This strengthens a patient’s immune system allowing them to fight cancer from a personalized therapy. It has seen an 83 percent survival rate for patients who have stopped responding to other treatments.

“The approval of CAR T-cell therapy for pediatric leukemia marks an important shift in the blood cancer treatment paradigm,” says the American Society of Hematology. “We now have proof that it is possible to eradicate cancer by harnessing the power of a patient’s own immune system. This is a potentially curative therapy in patients whose leukemia is unresponsive to other treatments and represents the latest milestone in the shift away from chemotherapy toward precision medicine. Today’s approval is the result of over a decade of hematology research, including research funded by the National Institutions of Health (NIH).”

Even the Zika Virus is being studied for its healing benefits. The virus is a threat to fetal brain growth and scientists believe that it can be altered to fight brain cancer. In lab testing on donors and mice, the Zika cells targeted the cancer cells, leaving the normal and healthy cells alone. This treatment is safe for adults as an adult brain in finished growing. It is still in the testing phase and has not yet been tried on living patients.

“Investigators have shown that mice with glioblastoma, a fatal tumor, survived longer after the tumor was inoculated with Zika virus,” says virologist Dr. Vincent Racaniello. “The findings suggest that Zika virus might be useful for treating human glioblastoma, assuming that the virus can be engineered to be safe for humans. It may seem odd to use a virus that infects the brain and causes neurological disease to treat brain cancer, but science is always full of surprises.”

With these two new treatments, we may be beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For more information on cancer or to donate visit the American Cancer Society's website.  The website also features a 24-hour support hotline and chat feature for those struggling with cancer and their caregivers. 

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About the Author

Chelsea Copeland

Chelsea Copeland is a native Oklahoman, born in Tulsa and raised in Coweta. She graduated from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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