Saturday, 8 March 2014

Fighting Fire with Fire: HIV as a cure for cancer?

Allanigue, Eric John V.
Individual Project for STS

Having to deal with cancer is a tough job. Having family members that would worry about you more than how you worry about yourself. Cancer kills people every day. According to the Philippine Cancer Society, of the 12262 cases of breast cancer (which is the most common kind of cancer in the Philippines) in 2010, 67.8% of it dies2. And for lung cancer, which is the second most prominent cancer case in the Philippines, 90% died of its 11,458 cases. Thus, cancer is considered as one of the major causes of deaths in the Philippines.

Fig. 1. Number of New Cases for 10 Most Common Cancers in 2010 (Retrieved from

With regards to people having contracted with HIV, the rate is rapidly increasing (usually occurring "among males who have sex with males and people who inject illegal drugs or narcotics" (Salaverria, 2013)), according to the studies of PNAC, or the Philippine National AIDS Council. Further studies have shown that there has been a 523 percent increase of Filipinos having HIV from the years 2008 to 2012. These are very disturbing figures, considering the development of medicine during our times.

But what if we could use the destructive mechanisms of the HIV to our advantage? To better understand this possibility, we should know and understand the concepts of cancer and HIV. Cancer is a disease brought about by the abnormal growth of cells due to damaged DNA. As a living cell cycle is disrupted, and it would just continue to grow and multiply, and later on would form into tissues (tumors). Having this carcinogenic tumors unremoved, further damaged could occur, and thereby causing death as a worst case scenario. There are substances which are known to cause the speeding up the growth of these malignant tissues, known as carcinogens.

Fig 2. Cell Cycle and Cancer (Retrieved from

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus which attacks the defense mechanism of our body, the Immune System. HIV affects the body by destroying lymphocytes, and hijacks its internal systems to reproduce into the body. It is also a retrovirus, which means that it changes its forms, therefore no permanent cure is found. As the immune system's elements are destroyed, the body is getting more and more susceptible to diseases, until there comes a point that a simple cough and cold could be lethal.

Then, one time, I came across an article saying that HIV was used to cure cancer. And I followed the link, where a video, showing the story of HIV as a cure for cancer, was displayed. It was a story of a six-year-old girl, Emma, fighting against leukemia. And the doctors who was in-charge of her tried to come up with a "modified" version of HIV and use its hijacking mechanisms to fight cancer cells. Yet, with new technology, there would always be other effects. According to the results, during the first days of treatment, Emma still had reactions to the introduced virus. She still got sick. But after a considerable amount of time, promising outcomes came about. Slowly, the once suffering little girl from leukemia, now very well and more ready to face the world.

Fig 3. Video of Emma, and her case study regarding the use of modified HIV to cure her leukemia.

But we have to remember, science and technology will have their limitations. This kind of treatment is still undergoing continuous study. And the video portrays only a case study. If this technique is to be applied to the country, it must first be studied thoroughly. What would be the effects of this treatment to the kind of climate that we have in the Philippines? Could this affect the success rate of the treatment? What are the constraints of the recipients of the treatment? Would there be any additional side effects compared to the study compared in America? These are only some considerations that we should consider. But nevertheless, the technology is within reach, and it could be developed more throughout time.

This is one of the good things brought about by developing technology. Those diseases that were if not incurable, hard to be treated, are now being fought with their cures. Now, let us first stop and think. What other possibilities could be found in the field of medicine during our lifetime?


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