Now We Can Program Blood Cells to Attack Cancer; Next?

Researchers have figured out how to extract white blood cells from a cancer patient’s blood, which they can reprogram to kill cancer, and then re-inject into the patient.

The treatment called, “a living drug,” just received the nod by the toughest regulatory body in medicine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Remember in Terminator 2 when John Connor of the future captures a Terminator, and reprograms the cyborg to save his younger self, sending the Terminator back in time? That’s basically the CAR-T process, the name they’ve given this new drug.

This technology and the CRISPR treatments (there’s more than the Cas9) prove that the future of nanobots may not be so much “Innerspace” (a super cheesy 80s science fiction movie starring Martin Short where he… never mind) as it will be… something more organic.

The future of microscopic treatments and biohacking is about reprogramming the small biomaterials we already have on hand, not about making our big clunky stuff smaller.

Kymriah

Novartis, the company who created the new drug, named it Kymriah. Each treatment is unique to the individual so every batch of Kymriah is different.

They make it from the white blood cells of the patient. Unlike red blood cells, the white versions have a nuclei, a programmable “brain” if you will, pre-wired for defense.

The genius is that there will never be an over-the-counter version of Kymriah, although we may someday be able to buy kits to make our own.

While versions to treat all cancers may come in time, this first therapy works only on acute lymphoblastic leukemia. At present, there are already acceptable treatments in place for this disorder, but there are cases where those treatments fail.

That’s where Kymriah comes in.

“We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, from the FDA to the BBC. “New technologies such as gene and cell therapies hold out the potential to transform medicine and create an inflection point in our ability to treat and even cure many intractable illnesses.”

The effectiveness of Kymriah is over 80 percent, which is incredible compared to most drugs. The key is getting one’s hands on it.

Accessibility

Like most nascent treatments, without a sponsor or crowdfunding, the first patients will be the wealthy or those with over-the-top insurance [read: the wealthy].

Single treatments cost close to half a million dollars, $475,000, but it only takes one. That is what a miracle costs, apparently, about the same as a condo in Los Angeles, but without the monthly association fees.

It’s worth it. Patient X was near death at the time they tested the first batch but now lives cancer free five years on.

There are few side effects that we know of, but one is a cytokine release syndrome from the rapid proliferation of the CAR-T cells in the body. Treatment of that uptick is a matter of conventional medication.

Biohacking

As always, we like to connect theses new technologies to the transhumanism movement.

A new treatment in the half-million dollar neighborhood doesn’t fold into the RFID implant world so easily. It seems we’re a long way out from leveraging this for nefarious means, like taking over the world with superhuman abilities, but maybe not.

Successful treatments, especially after they proliferate, come down to the lower branches in time. At home kits, like what happened to the CRISPR Cas9 protocols, put gene editing in the hands of backyard scientists.

Novartis owns the rights to CAR-T, but nobody in the biohacking sphere has their attention on fighting cancer. We want to steal the idea to reprogram white blood cells to cure our tendency to die or age or some such affliction.

Could we reprogram white blood cells to fight all this gravity keeping us on the ground? (So we can fly, duh.) Probably not, but there is a biohacker out there right now, dreaming of a possibility, something for which the CAR-T method might work.

Novartis broke the seal. Now it’s a matter of time before other treatments show up off the grid. When they do, Body Hacks will be there to say, “I told you so.”

Sources: bbc.com npr.org