For any given human cancer there is, somewhere, a person who possesses immune cells that can kill it efficiently and rapidly. That, at least, is the theory - and the evidence backing it up is good. Some people have granulocyte immune cells that are immensely effective at destroying cancer, and those cells and their cancer-killing properties can be safely transferred to other people. You might recall that the work of Zheng Cui, presented at SENS3, provided an impressive demonstration of this strategy for dealing with cancer:
Dr. Cui tested the ability of these cells to fight off cancer by transfusing them into normal mice with cancers. Surprisingly, the simple transfusion of the cancer-fighting immune cells from the resistant mice effectively transfered the same remarkable protection to the normal mice. And even more excitingly, the treatment didn't just prevent cancers from forming, but actually fought off existing cancer: when researchers transfused the anti-cancer white blood cells into normal mice with existing skin tumors, the tumors regressed completely in a matter of weeks. Moreover, a single dose of the cancer-fighting immune cells gave the normal animals a cancer immunity that often lasted for the rest of their lives.
At SENS3, Dr. Cui presented the next logical step in his research: work demonstrating the existence of, and characterizing, high-potency cancer-killing granulocytes in humans.
Dr. Cui's team first went looking for the existence of potent cancer-killing granulocytes in a group of healthy volunteers. This was done by testing the volunteers' granulocytes' ability to destroy cancer cells in a petrie dish. They found that, unlike in mice (who seem to have an all-or-nothing effect), there appears to be a classical bell-shaped distribution of cancer-killing ability in the granulocytes of people in the population: a few people have white blood cells extremely weak cancer-killing activity, the great majority have an 'average' competence, and a very small group of outliers have the kind of overwhelming search-and-destroy activity (at least in a test tube!) that is seen in the SR/CR mice.
Since then interest in granulocyte transplant therapies has been growing. A clinical trial is underway in Florida, for example. What I wanted to draw your attention to today, however, is the non-profit Livly. A number of familiar faces are involved, such as John Schloendorn who has worked on bioremediation research for the SENS Foundation's lysoSENS project. The folk at Livly are presently involved in advancing the state of the art in granulocyte therapies:
Currently, Livly's work is focused on using the innate immune system to combat cancer. This idea was popular in the 80s, but had been abandoned in favor of adaptive immunity (the now fashionable "cancer vaccines"). Recently, Dr. Zheng Cui of Wake Forest University received much popular press for reviving this idea.
Livly's story began when John’s friend Chris Heward, President of Kronos Science Labs in Phoenix, AZ, was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer in the fall of 2008. Doctors gave him no chance of surviving the year, even with the best available standard of care. So he decided to forego the so-called "palliative" chemotherapy treatment and give this leukocyte transfer idea a shot. Kronos worked with Wake Forest to begins screening a large number of healthy individuals for innate cancer-killing activity. However, the cancer progressed far too rapidly. Chris died in early 2009, before the group was able to have a leukocyte transfusion ready.
Eri and John founded Livly in order to take a more direct role in fighting cancer. After determining that thier work would contribute to the field, they could not turn their backs on this mission while only waiting, watching and hoping that other loved ones would not also be victims of cancer.
The next phase of cell transplant therapies is to do away with the need for a foreign source of cells by understanding how and why such a transplant achieves its goal. In this case, a plausible future involves altering some of the patient's own immune cells to have the cancer-killing ability found in only a few people, then culturing a large quantity of them, and returning them to the body. Another option is some form of drug that alters the behavior of the patient's existing granulocytes, thus removing the need for any transplant.