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Researchers Fight Leukemia... With HIV

An experimental gene therapy program in Pennsylvania has helped numerous patients fight leukemia by using a disabled form of HIV to reprogram their bodies.

Researchers are now using a modified version of HIV to fight leukemia. The New York Times' Denise Grady reports that an experimental treatment from the University of Pennsylvania and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia successfully induced cancer remissions by using a disabled form of HIV to reprogram patients' T-cells.

Big pharma firm Novartis is committing $20 million to bringing the University of Pennsylvania HIV/leukemia treatment to market. The procedure involves doctors extracting millions of T-cells from a patient's body, and using the disabled HIV virus to insert new genes into the T-cells that reprogram them to kill cancer cells. The HIV project is one of the most ambitious genetic medicine efforts to date, and will require significant FDA scrutiny before coming to market. According to research published in 2011, the experimental treatment made cancer completely disappear in two patients and reduced it by 70 percent in a third.

[Image: Flickr user Touchet2010]

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia as the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania.