The State of Leukocyte or Granulocyte Transplants to Kill Cancer

You might recall that people were enthused a few years back over the work of researcher Zheng Cui, who showed that (a) one breed of lab mice shug off cancer because their immune cells are different in ways that enable them to kill cancer dead, (b) transplanting those immune cells into more vulnerable mice also kills cancer dead, and (c) this same state of affairs exists in humans. Somewhere, someone has an immune system that can kill your cancer. If you could find them and undergo a transplant of leukocyte or granulocyte immune cells, the evidence to date suggests that this would be a very effective therapy.

As put by the folk at Livly, a non-profit startup focused on bringing this form of therapy into the clinic:

Results like this suggest to us that innate immunotherapy is the only approach that has shown the promise to permanently cure advanced cancer. Ironically, it is also one of the most neglected areas in contemporary research.

Which is unfortunately the case. For example, a trial of Cui's work was trumpeted by Wake Forest University back in mid 2008, but never went anywhere, and was withdrawn without enrollment last year. I have no insight into why this happened, but if you look through the Wake Forest clinical trials listings for cancer therapies, you won't see much involving immunotherapy. Read into that what you will.

There is a trial of granulocyte transplants presently running in Florida, however, as I noted last year. Enrollment is by invitation only, which suggests a small organization, limited budget, and consequent slow progress in generating data - but at least someone is giving it a try.

About 75% of US population living today will not die of cancer. It is not uncommon that some people remain cancer-free into their 80s and 90s, even if they are regularly exposed to environmental carcinogens such as air pollutants, cigarette smoking, etc. A frequently asked but unanswered question is why these individuals do not get cancer. There has been a recent report of a colony of cancer-resistant mice developed from a single male mouse that unexpectedly survived challenges of lethal cancer cell injections. In these so-called spontaneous regression/complete resistant (SR/CR) mice, cancer cells are killed by rapid infiltration of leukocytes, mainly of innate immunity. This highly effective natural cancer immunity is inherited and mediated entirely by white blood cells. Moreover, this cancer resistance can be transferred to wild type mice through the transfer of various immune cell types including granulocytes.

This observation raises the possibility that infusion of white blood cells, particularly cells of innate immunity, is a viable anticancer therapy in humans as well.

Another initiative worthy of mention is the Direct Oncology Foundation. These are more folk from the same circles as the Methuselah Foundation, SENS Foundation, and Livly, who are aiming to understand the biochemistry of the cancer-immune mice. Their goal is to enable the development of drug-based therapies to alter immune cells in a patient to have the characteristics of these cancer-killing immune cells, thus eliminating the need for transplants.

In an effort to accelerate the development of a cancer treatment based on innate cancer immunity, the Direct Oncology (DO) Foundation is launching an appeal to raise $100,000 to sequence cancer resistant mice at Wake Forest University. The project is being coordinated by Livly, a Silicon Valley based non-profit corporation dedicated to the development of sustainable cures for the major diseases plaguing humankind. ... The immune systems of the mice successfully fight off different types of advanced cancer. Immune cells from these Spontaneous Regression / Complete Resistance (SR/CR) mice can be used to protect other mice from advanced cancer. Evidence suggests that there is a single place in the SR/CR mouse's genome that confers the remarkable cancer resistance. Ironically, the gene for the cancer resistance has proven inaccessible to standard mouse genetic methods, and its identity and sequence have remained elusive. The progress of clinical efforts was hampered by lack of knowledge of the genetics underlying the cancer resistance.

So far as I know, this is where things stand. I am not aware of other groups seriously investigating this line of research. Not a whole lot of work is taking place, and where progress is happening, it is slow and low-key - a frustrating state of affairs.


Might it be because there is less money to be made by curing people from their cancers, than by treating them with expensive therapy?

Posted by: Hervé Musseau at April 22nd, 2010 1:28 AM

No Way Hervé Musseau! The human beings who own major corporations have wives, daughters, and husbands who also die from cancer. Their may be a grain of truth to what you ask but it's not the main problem. The problem is status quo bias.

Posted by: Matthew f. at April 22nd, 2010 9:44 AM

Curing cancer would quickly bankrupt social security, most hospitals, and all annuity companies and pension funds.

Posted by: Iggy Dalrymple at April 25th, 2010 8:52 PM

The problem isn't the drug companies. The problem is with the status quo as Matthew f. said. For example, see this important story in the New York Times:

"Grant System leads Cancer Researchers to Play it Safe"? See:

Most people sleep-walk through their day. Even the very wealthy and powerful. There is only a small number of truly innovative people. The good news is that the number is growing. Garage biotech is reducing the cost of research (a barrier to entry), and the rising power of China and other BRIC countries is increasing the opportunities for regulatory arbitrage. The likelihood of you reaching escape velocity is rising every day. You can help by waking up the high net worth people you know to the possibility that THEY can play a role in funding truly extraordinary breakthroughs.

Posted by: Damian Crowe at April 27th, 2010 2:28 PM

The comment above about a cancer cure bankrupting Social Security and parts of the financial sector is entirely correct in my opinion also. Also, the exising "medical/industrial complex" would be totally turned over. I'm convinced that innovative research leading to cure or control will come from the Chinese anyway.

Posted by: bobecus at July 1st, 2011 6:31 AM
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