A Natural Cure for Cancer?: THE FUTURIST Interviews Dr. Dipnarine Maharaj, South Florida Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant Institute
When people come down with cancer, they submit to regimens of drugs and, if need be, harsh radiation treatments. But what if those patients could forego all of this and ward off their cancers with their own white blood cells? An experimental white-blood-cell-transfusion approach that Dr. Dipnarine Maharaj is developing might make that feasible.
Dr. Maharaj is a hematologist and oncologist at the South Florida Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant Institute, a cancer treatment center that applies stem-cell therapies to cancers that have not responded well to other treatments. He is working on taking white blood cells from healthy donors and fusing them into patients with cancer, so that the transfused cells can stimulate the patients’ immune systems and enable them to ward off the cancers on their own.
His concept has precedents—doctors successfully treat some other types of infections by transfusing white blood cells—and the initial experimental results are promising. He will need more time, however, and much more funding before his treatment approach is ready. Dr. Maharaj described his research to Rick Docksai, associate editor for THE FUTURIST, in the following interview.
Dr. Dipnarine Maharaj (photo credit: BMSCTI.org)
THE FUTURIST: Strengthening the body to wage its own fight against cancer, instead of relying on drugs or radiation, is certainly an appealing idea. What first drew you to it?
Dipnarine Maharaj: We asked the question, why is that some people get cancer and others don’t? The answer is that someone who’s got cancer, their immune system is broken down. So if the people who didn’t get cancer, their immune systems are not broken down, how can we fix the cancer patients’ immune systems? I’m a stem-cell physician, and we’ve had this procedure for many years where we use a patient’s own stem cells or the stem cells of a donor to reform the patient’s own immune system. That’s what actually helps to cure the cancer.
THE FUTURIST: How does your new approach go about boosting the body’s immune cells? What mechanisms are involved?
Maharaj: To cure cancer, we really have to repair the immune system. What we’re trying to do is apply that same knowledge to treat patients with solid tumors. The method I’m using, we’re taking cells of the immune system from the donors, and we’re transfusing those cells into patients who have cancers. It is essentially a white-blood-cell transplant.
THE FUTURIST: How early in the progression of cancer would a patient need to be for the treatment to work effectively?
Maharaj: We’re still under the clinical trials. But the best way I could answer that question is that the smaller the amount of disease at the time that it is done, the better the chance of a positive outcome.
If we go based upon the animal studies, which were done over a 12-year period by Dr. Cui, he showed that it works. What I’m doing is translating it into humans. The question is, will it be an effective treatment in humans? That’s the debate in the clinical trials.
THE FUTURIST: If we can strengthen the body’s immune system to the point where it can ward off cancerous tumors, then perhaps we could strengthen the body’s immunity against many other diseases, as well. What prospects do you see for cross-applying this to AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases that still claim huge numbers of lives around the world every year?
Maharaj: I believe the answer is yes. There is evidence from the use of white-blood-cell transfusions before from patients that have had severe infections, and the patients were able to survive. It was used before for treating infections that could not be treated by anything else.
Using white-blood-cell transfusions for treating infections is not new. What is new is that we’re using it to treat patients with cancer. And we’re using young, healthy donors. Oftentimes, when they make transfusions, they transfuse blood cells from patients of all ages. We’re being selective because as we age, our immune systems become weaker. We really don’t want to take immune cells from an older person, because their immune system is weaker and less able to help the receiving patient’s body fight cancer.
THE FUTURIST: A lot of experts have expressed alarm over worldwide overuse of antibiotics, which they say accelerates the evolution of newer, deadlier pathogens that are antibiotic-resistant. If your procedure succeeds and attains widespread use, what hope might there be of reducing the world’s reliance on antibiotics to fight disease?
Maharaj: I agree. Certain things occur, over time, which weaken the immune system. Infections per se weaken the immune system. What’s happening now on the background of that, is that we have antibiotics developing resistant bacteria, so the immune system is not able to react. If we strengthen the immune system, we will be able to get rid of these bacteria, which means that we will solve this problem of bacterial resistance.
THE FUTURIST: How supportive have the NIH and other public institutions that typically sponsor medical R&D been so far of your efforts? If they have not been very supportive, then why?
Maharaj: With the economic situation as it is, funding has been very tight. One of the other aspects of this is that it’s a novel mechanism. And from a commercial point of view, a drug company is less interested in a study that involves a natural product versus a synthetic product. But the overriding problem has been the economic situation, which makes it difficult to obtain funding for a study.
However, we continue to reach out to private donors. If a million people were to read this interview and each one gave $10, we would reach our target funding goal and be able to complete this study.
THE FUTURIST: What are the next steps, research-wise?
Maharaj: We are in phase 1 and 2, and then we move to a phase three. It’s in the phase three that we get larger numbers of patients and are able to prove that the treatment is an effective treatment.