Once again we find this Video of six year old Emily Whitehead circulating around the internet and popping up constantly on social media. The video looks at the experimental treatment Emily underwent during her second relapse of Lukemia and the miraculous outcome of that treatment in 2011. This treatment, supposedly, involves injecting Emily with HIV to help her combat her cancerous cells, and it is perhaps this aspect of pitting two ‘killer diseases’ against each other that really adds to the story in the eyes of the public.
The problem is that this isn’t really how the treatment works. Emily was not injected with the HIV. Rather, some of her T-cells (which had been taken from her) were infected by a biologically engineered derivative of HIV which is particularly good at ‘sneaking’ into cells. These T-cells, now reprogrammed by the virus to produce theÂ chimeric antigen receptor protein, are then reintroduced to Emily’s immune system where they can more effectively eliminate cancer cells.
Going even further, in a paper published recently looking at trials of this type of research, in which it is suspected Emily is one of the two participants, whilst one of the two had their cancer eradicated, the other found themselves back in hospital two months later with another relapse.
It is of course a wonderful thing that Emily, as well as a dozen or so other patients, has undergone such an experimental cancer treatment and survived when they were close to death, but is the social positioning of the video a positive thing for the industry? That is video, with it’s misleading message about the use of HIV, and its fostering of claims of a ‘cure for cancer’ without much thought for the dramatic variation found between different cancers, does it engage and educate the public? Or does it provide them with misconceptions as to the current stage of cancer research on the path towards an all encompassing cure?
A recent post by the charity Cancer Research UK certainly sides with latter point of view.
This story has no doubt captured the hearts of millions of people across the world. Viewers have expressed their admiration for both Emily and the doctors involved. The video is a trailer for a short film entitled “Fire with Fire” but can also be found under titles such as “Amazing Story: 6 Year Old Dying Cancer Patient Injected With HIV…” and “Doctors Take a Long Shot and Inject HIV into a Dying Girl…“. But does this sort of sentimentalization fool the public into believing that a cure is just around the corner? And that if they or someone they love falls victim to cancer, they are certain to live?
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