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Home » IL-2 » Of Porn and Natural Killer Cells: The Mean Streets of the National Institutes of Health

Of Porn and Natural Killer Cells: The Mean Streets of the National Institutes of Health

Posted by on April 25, 2012 in IL-2, Immunotherapies (IL-2, IL-15, PD-1s, etc.), My Health Updates, Other Drugs, RCC News & Research - 14 Comments
Natural Killer Cell

 

Building 10 of the National Institutes of Health

Building 10 is the heart of the National Institutes of Health – the Old Main of this little research university where the clinical trials are performed. It’s a nicely designed building with a lot of light and plenty of sitting areas near windows if you are able to venture out of your room.  From the seventh floor you can look across Wisconsin Avenue and see the tower of the Bethesda Naval Hospital looming over the city.

The building is apparently so vast, it circumvents the globe — as evidenced by my room which is in 3 SEN — which stands for South, East, North.  That’s right, we’re so far South, we’re North.  I think the toilets flush backwards and it might be winter here.  Either that, or it’s just part of the clinical trial mentality — a way to frustrate lab mice as they wander the maze. This could explain whey I get an electric shock every time I make a wrong turn.

Actually, the only shock I’ve received so far, if you can call it that, was Monday night when I tried to put a movie into the computer/DVD system and was denied access. The nurse had to reboot the system, she informed me, because the previous patient was doing “inappropriate things” with it and they had to cut him off.

“What, was the guy watching porn?” I asked.

“Uh huh.”

“Really, you have porn here?” My interest was peaked.

“He brought his own,” she said.

Evidently he didn’t even try to hide it. Nurses, doctors, whomever would walk into the room to the sounds of 70s porno soundtracks and lord knows what else. Nor would he turn it off when they came in. I can only imagine the conversations that occurred. Sir, I’m going to need that wrist for a minute to take your blood pressure. One of the nurses told me that he’d ask for a blanket and she’d hand it to him at arm’s length and then make good use of the liquid sanitary soap on the wall near the door. On three different occasions this occurred, and finally they just had to shut down access to the computer. That or install mirrors wall-to-wall in the ward.

Other than their newfound fears of sexual deviants (they were clearly wary of me when I first arrived), the oncology nurses here are excellent – skilled, compassionate and good-humored. I see more of the trial oncologist, Dr. Kevin Conlon, than I have been able to see previous physicians during treatments. He’s happy to sit down and talk about his research, and as a living part of that research I’m interested in what he has to say.

Here’s an simplistic overview of the research surrounding IL-15:

IL-15 is a cousin of IL-2, but it is believed to be more targeted than the latter. Both drugs are immunotherapeutic, attempting to kickstart the body’s natural immune system into fighting the cancer naturally. Each tries to increase and activate lymphocyites which house Natural Kill Cells. I’m not making this up; Natural Killer Cells is actually what they are called. And although they sound like murderous psychotics, and to some degree they are, they are on our side.  Like the body’s own mob hit men.  They recognize the alien and threatening viruses and attack them with a chemical called Perforin. This chemical “perforates” the threatening cells, causing the cellular matter to leak out, thereby killing it. It’s cellular gangland warfare and, gutshot by our assassins, the viral cells bleed out on the street.

The promise of IL-15 is that it targets the lymphocytes with the Natural Killer Cells better than IL-2 and has a longer lasting effect. IL-2 is a blunter instrument, attacking a more diverse range of cells and causing more damage to the body, and also shuts itself down requiring more and more doses. Which is why the side effects of IL-2 are so much more severe. The researchers know that the IL-15 works with better precision than IL-2 with regard to attacking viral cells, but they don’t really know how well it will work on cancerous cells. Cancer cells are mutations of normal cells. They aren’t foreign in the way viral cells are, which is why cancer is so hard to combat. The body’s immune system doesn’t really recognize cancer cells as being abnormal and therefore doesn’t attack. So the purpose of the research is to see if IL-15, by focusing more narrowly on activating Natural Killer Cells, will be more effective at prompting the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer.

Which is why I am here. (Well, technically I am here to see what level of toxicity human beings can withstand from the drug. That is the purpose of any Phase I trial: Does this hurt? Does this hurt? How about this?) All day long yesterday nurses withdrew copious amounts of blood – at least twenty vials. I’m so wired up with cables running through my veins I look like a cyborg. I’ve got an IV in one arm and in the other a PICC line with multiple lumens. (A PICC line is a peripherally inserted central catheter with thicker, heavier tubing than an IV and that is inserted in the arm and coiled through the vein around the shoulder and collarbone and dropped down, more or less, into the heart for better intravenous distribution. You can find a more detailed description of a PICC line and how it works here.)

The result, so far, is a drop in my Lymphocyte count. Which is good news. It means the lymphocytes have woken up and are groggily scrambling about the body looking for something to do. Like a bunch of hung-over frat boys waking up and scrambling to find classes.  Dr. Conlon said he expects to see further drops and then eventual increases in the lymphocytes.

This means that the drug is having an effect. The lymphocytes, and the Natural Killer Cells, are gearing up for war. The question is whether they can recognize the enemy.

  • Mike Venable

    I’m with you brother, hanging onto every word. I’m pulling for you (not pulling on you like the guy who used to occupy your bed) like a big dog and I continue to lift you up in my meager Episcopal prayers. I’ve even recruited some Baptists (Their prayers have much more mojo, or at least they think so.) to “just” lift you up in their prayers. They like to use the word “just” multiple times in a prayer. I mean if it were “just,” wouldn’t it just be that one “just.” Doesn’t just mean that? Just.

  • Jplantin

    Thanks for the update. Go NK cells; go.

  • Pam

    I find you to be amazingly brave to go through these experimental treatments. My brother hated the one week of IL-2 at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. After that was unsuccessful, he was actually relieved, though our family was devastated. Praying IL-15 will attack those cancer cells and leave the side effects to a minimum! 

  • Julie Corrigan

    Sending positive thoughts and prayers to you and hoping like crazy the NK cells find the enemy and exterminate it – all the way and permanently.  Keep busy and keep posting.  You made the right decision.  Don’t second guess any of it.

  • Linda Cox

    Is Dr. Conlon aware that you’re writing about him to the entire world?  He needs to be told of your many followers and that he should be taking extra good care of you and that you need lots of TLC! = )  The treatment really does sound promising!  
    Praying for positive results and minimal side effects!  Take care Chris!!

  • Nixoncheryl

    Chris thank you for putting yourself out there. I hope and pray this is the answer we have been looking for. Il-2 worked for me so far. The side effects were horrendous. I pray you have minimal side effects. There are so many of us taking this journey with you and Dena. I wish I could be there to cheer you on. You are so brave, I know what you are thinking, do I have a choice? You guys are incredible with your sence of humor. You bring us joy in the midst of suffering. Love to you both. Cheryl

  • Ellenhowe08

    Chris & Dena – glad to see you made this promising trial. I am praying for you. Ellen

  • Bonnie

    Chris, I somehow feel you will win this war!!  It sounds like you are getting very good care there and thank God for that!!  I met Dena when I was visiting Brian in DC and it was a privilege to meet the person who is your wonderful partner in all of the medical madness you are going through and my prayers continue. (I pray for a lot of people, but I always put you at the top of my list!)
    Love and many blessings to you and your family!
    Bonnie Walsh

  • Beccisaporito

    Chris, I’m praying for you daily, as always. Hoping the bad cells get attacked with a vengeance! Much love to the family, Becci Saporito

  • Minniekriek

    Hmmm…. I’d like to know how the porno person responded to his treatment. Perhaps he knows something that lesser mortals should be made aware of!
    Hope the IL-15 works its best miracle for you.
    Best wishes to you and Dena
    Minnie

  • Maryalice13

    Hang in there friend! I will pray that this trial is the answer!

  • Dori Scoggins

    We are using NKcells IL15 here mixed with something else to create cells for Multiple Myeloma.   I hope this will work for you!  Love to you and Dena and the girls! Dori

  • Mjpattison1

    On with the war, the enemy MUST be destroyed!

  • Lisasmorton

    Seriously, are you telling me I’m betting on the GFBs (groggy frat boys) to target the NKCs (you know that gang)?  I think we need a better visual here – hmmmmm – have you heard of the Secret Service?!

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