11. Carl June

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

11. Carl June

The Sneaky Immunologist

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.


  • Step 1: Deactivate the HIV virus

    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.

  • Step 2: Reengineer the T cells

    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.

  • Step 3: Infuse the patient with new leukemia-killer cells

    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]

About the author

J.J. McCorvey is a staff writer for Fast Company, where he covers business and technology.