A cutting-edge therapy for cancer that uses an artificial virus to zero in on cancerous cells and cause them to disintegrate will be tested in India for the first time. Human trials for oncolytic virus therapy (OVT) are scheduled to begin in May.
A genetically manufactured virus is administered intravenously and once it enters the body, it seeks out tumours or cancerous lesions, leaving normal cells alone. Early trials in the UK have proved promising; trials in the US and in India will begin simultaneously. If these trials are successful, OVT could become standard treatment for cancers of all kinds.
Simultaneous trials will begin at the Artemis Health Institute in Gurgaon and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, where one patient each will be administered a single dose and monitored for four to six weeks for improvement and side-effects. Only after the institutions are done with one patient will the procedure be tried on another. The Gurgaon hospital will conduct the trial on 50 patients, who will not have to pay for it.
“We are very confident the therapy will work. Early trials (conducted in England) have been fairly successful,” says Dr Kushagra Kataria, CEO, Artemis Health Institute. “This is a biological treatment and does not affect normal cells. Patients will not have to suffer from nausea, hair loss, diarrhoea and other symptoms that usually accompany chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”
Oncolytic viruses are live viruses that selectively target the highly divisive cancer cells that form into tumours. The virus chosen for these trials is called Vaccina, genetically created by Genelux, a biomedical firm. The same virus is also used for small pox vaccines. For cancer treatment, of course, it is programmed differently. In early trials, just one dose has resulted in complete cures. Experts say that once it is declared a success, the therapy will become cheap and affordable.
Many cancer hospitals are keen to use the therapy, but are waiting for the trials to be completed. Dr V.R. Pai, a medical oncologist at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, says, “This is definitely worth trying, and if successful, we will definitely start it at our hospital too. That it is a biological cure and cuts down on side-effects and increases the response rate can in itself be considered a breakthrough.”
In tests on animals, they were injected with a human tumour and then treated with the virus. It was noted that the procedure cured all types of cancer and there were no side-effects.
A connection between cancer and viruses has long been theorised, and case reports of cancer regression after immunisation or infection with an unrelated virus appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.
In India, early Phase 1 human trials are not permitted; late Phase 1 and early Phase 2 trials are. Since this is still considered a scientific experiment, many ethical guidelines will be followed.
“We are not opposed to human trials if all ethics and guidelines are followed strictly. However, this is intellectual scientific experimentation at the same time so we have to be very careful,” says a health ministry official. “Also, once the treatment is a success in one or two centres, it will be allowed at other hospitals.” Trials in India will target patients with cervical, head, neck and lung cancer. While lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in the world, neck and cervical cancer are the more prevalent forms of the disease in India.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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