Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

Scientists Target Cancer Cells Using Modified T-Cells

MIT engineers have developed a way to attach drug-carrying pouches (yellow) to the surfaces of cells. (Darrell Irvine and Matthias Stephan)

It’s not all doom and gloom here at Failed Empire.  Although there is much to lament about our current social order, the onward march of science and technology is something that should be celebrated.  The scientific process represents the best of human ingenuity and intellectual integrity – the pinnacle of reality-based reasoning and applied critical thinking.  As such, along with critiquing the many aspects of our civilization that clearly need remedying, it is crucial that we acknowledge and extol the fundamental values of the scientific process and all that it entails – namely, the search for truth regardless of personal bias.

One of my favorite authors at the moment is Raymond Kurzweil, an inventor and self-professed futurist whose writings often attempt to forecast the rapidly accelerating trajectory of technological progress.  Kurzweil’s AI (short for “accelerating intelligence”)  is an excellent source of information regarding recent technology-related developments.  The site is closely linked with Kurzweil’s visionary 2005 book The Singularity is Near – which, incidentally, I would highly recommend.

The latest top story has to do with a development discussed at some length in The Singularity, and that is the use of genetically modified human T-cells to fight serious illness – in this case cancer:

MIT researchers have engineered T cells with tiny pouches that can carry cytokines, which are gradually released from the pouches, enhancing the longevity of the T cells that carry them.

In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine in August, Irvine and Stephan used their modified T cells to treat mice with lung and bone marrow tumors. They are now working on ways to more easily synthesize the pouches at a large scale, so they can be tested in humans, using materials that would be more likely to get FDA approval…

Despite the obstacles remaining, many cancer researchers still believe T-cell therapy is a promising approach. “The major advantage of T cells is that unlike chemotherapy and radiation, there’s very little toxicity associated with them,” says Cliona Rooney, a professor in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine…

In some cases, T-cell therapy might be most beneficial when used in combination with other treatments. Stephan believes T-cell therapy could produce better results if patients received it right after having surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor, to clear out any residual cancer cells. “Ongoing T cell therapy clinical trials enroll primarily late-stage cancer patients with well-established relapsing tumors as a final experimental treatment option,” he says. “T cell therapy could reveal its full potential when combined with surgery in newly diagnosed patients.”

According to Kurzweil, such treatments represent the future of medical care.  We are rapidly gaining the knowledge and technological prowess required to reprogram cells of all kinds to perform various functions.  In this case, T-cells have been altered to identify and attack cancer cells, leaving other cells in tact.  Scientists have even added a special “pouch” to the T-cells which gradually disperses cytokines to prolong the otherwise brief lifespan of the cell.

It is to such life-saving technologies that we as a society should be devoting our intellectual and material wealth, not the creation of increasingly deadly weapons or the prosecution of endless unwinnable wars.


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