Immunotherapy: An Elegant Solution 40 Years in the Making

It sounds so elegant: supercharge the body’s immune system to fight cancer.  But a lengthy New York Times article underscores just how difficult such a simple-sounding solution can be.

One of the physicians profiled in the article came up with the idea nearly 40 years ago. He’s been pursuing the idea ever since.  Other physicians have joined the cause, pursuing their own theories on how to make the concept work.

According to the article, cell therapy is most likely to be effective against blood cancers such as leukemia. Solid tumors, the more common form of cancer, are also a target, but an effective cell therapy against them seems to be a lot farther off.

The article also profiles patients that have had their cancers wiped out.  Their gratitude, as you can imagine, is immense. But they had to endure what seems to me to be horrendous side effects.  Three patients in a clinical trial died, according to the article, when a second chemotherapeutic agent was added to the treatment regimen.    

But that is the nature of medical research. As brilliant as these researchers are, they are still human, who make mistakes and pursue theories that sometimes end up at a dead. But when they do, they go back, review their research and start down another, hopefully, more promising path.

Cancer is a tricky little devil. It wants to survive as much as any other living organism.  We tried poisoning it, burning it and starving it. In many cases, it just keeps coming back or doesn’t go away in the first place.

Fortunately, we have scientists who are willing to devote their lives and their talents to fighting cancer and have the determination to find that one elegant solution that’s out there waiting to be discovered.

Sun Protection: Vigilance and Diligence

Sun Protection:  Vigilance and Diligence

It is heartening to see the amount of energy, research, and awareness that is being brought to bear on skin cancer, especially melanoma.  We were involved in the original American Academy of Dermatology’s Skin Cancer Awareness and Prevention program back in the mid-80s.  Those were the days when kids and adults actively sought a tan and used products that claimed to promote tanning.  Coppertone, one of the most well-known tanning lotions of the 1960s and 1970s, today touts a SPF (sun protection factor) number on its bottles.   

Since then, the effort to educate has expanded.  Groups like the Melanoma Research Foundation have taken up the cause, raising money to fund melanoma research and to educate people to be on the lookout for suspicious moles that may, in fact, be melanoma.  The cast of the TV hit, “The Big Bang Theory”, recently taped a public service announcement to raise awareness of melanoma in honor of a show’s young fan who had died of the disease.   

Skin cancers are the culmination of years of sun exposure so it is vital that groups educate parents to protect their children’s skin. A lifelong habit like using sunscreen must be cultivated at a young age.

For those of us who came to sunscreen later in life, it’s important to remember that while melanoma is lethal, statistics cited by experts say that 98 percent of melanoma is curable if caught at the earliest stages. 

Catching melanoma early requires vigilance and diligence.- Tweet That!  Keep track of the moles you can see and have your spouse or partner help you keep track of the ones you can’t see like those on the back. 

And when in doubt, have it checked out by your physician or a specialist such as a dermatologist. 

WSJ Gives Telemedicine Some Love But is it Enough?

The telemedicine space is getting a lot of attention these days. The Wall Street Journal’s Melinda Beck did an excellent overview of the industry, key players, issues, upsides and downsides. Boston’s NPR affiliate had a roundtable discussion of the industry a few days later that included Beck as a panelist.

The concept of telemedicine holds much appeal in these days when keeping people out of the hospital or doctor’s office is seen as a big cost saver. Having a doctor available by phone to answer questions could save a co-pay for the patient, missed work for the employer and a claim against the health insurance plan.

In describing telemedicine companies, a big focus is how many people are covered by an individual company. But in talking to Patrick Spain, a founder of First Stop Health, an emerging company in the telemedicine space, the key number in evaluating the value of a telemedicine company isn’t how many people or companies it has as clients.

The key number, according to Spain, is utilization: the number of people within a client company that actually use the telemedicine service. That’s where the ROI for the employer is found. Breaking it down further, Spain says that any utilization figures should break out the number of people who call, not just the quantity of calls. After all, a few people who use a telemedicine service over and over doesn’t have the same ROI as a broader number of people who may only use the service a few times.