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.