Advances in Healthcare

Fighting Fire with Fire

Good news travels fast, especially on the Internet.

When videos like the one of a young girl being cured of leukemia by using the HIV-virus to successfully attack the cancer cells in her body begin to circulate, the ripple effect can be felt around the world. Even in the Lowcountry.

Major TV news outlets shared this remarkable story of how researchers saved this little girl. By stripping the once-dangerous virus of its devastating disease components and leaving the parts designed to attack cancer cells, Emma, who was near death, was miraculously saved.

Many cancer patients watching the video will immediately think the “silver bullet” that cures cancer has been discovered. And for some like Emma, it has. But researchers warn this treatment is experimental and will not work in all cases. Only a dozen have received this treatment, and only three were cancer-free.

Still, this experimental process brings to the forefront the enormous efforts being put forth in what is known as biological treatments for cancer. Not only in hospitals far away, but soon very close to home.

Dr. Steve Akman, medical director for the Roper St. Francis Cancer Center, watched the ABC News version of this story and couldn’t help but smile.

“I’ve been around a long time and have to admit I was skeptical of this kind of research,” he said. “But I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m glad they stuck with it. This can revolutionize what we do.”

All of this euphoria around this particular case and other research areas using a patient’s immune system to fight cancer is not unwarranted, experts say. But it must be tempered with the reality of bringing such treatments to market.

“It will take a few years for this to get FDA approval,” Akman said. “But Roper St. Francis will be involved in clinical trials and that means some patients will be able to get these treatments before they are commercially available. There is a lot of research yet to be done.”

By: Ken Burger, former Post and Courier sports columnist and local author. Reach Ken at

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