Carl June’s war against cancer is provocative. He uses a form of HIV to transform a patient’s T cells into leukemia “serial killers,” as he puts it. Thanks to his treatment, 9 out of 12 clinical trial patients are in full or partial remission. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced last year that it would invest $20 million in order to bring the treatment to market, and June envisions using a modified version of the therapy on HIV patients within the next decade or so.
June and his research team gut out the virus, removing the genes that make it a disease. Because HIV is so good at carrying genetic materials to T cells, June is basically bumming a ride.
Millions of the patient’s T cells are removed and sent to a facility, where, June says, “we change the DNA in the patient’s own cells.” Scientists reprogram the cells with the disabled HIV, which are now programmed to attack tumors.
The cells are dripped back into the patient’s bloodstream with their new seek-and-destroy mission. Because of HIV’s unmatched ability to replicate, the new cells multiply by a thousand-fold within weeks, creating a new army that is trained to attack leukemia on sight.
[Illustrations by Justin Mezzell]