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The future of cancer care.

posted Jul 24, 2018, 5:47 PM by Thomas Stern
I will never forget the first child I saw die of cancer.  I was a medical student tagging along with my dad who was attending on the general pediatric medicine service at Arkansas Children's Hospital.  She was 3 years old sleeping peacefully in a crib.  She was thin and bald from chemotherapy. I thought how peaceful and almost angelic she looked.  I might have been in the room 30 seconds because she was comfort care and there was nothing left to do.  She had failed all therapies and the medical staff was resigned to her death.  The next day we came back to her room and the room was empty.  The floor nurse reported she had died the night before.  I decided for a short while I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist.  As my experience with oncology grew I observed hundreds if not thousands of people endure chemotherapy including a couple of my own family members. At that point cytotoxic drugs were the treatment.  I often wondered if chemotherapy did more harm than good.  Nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weight loss, and lethargy seemed to be an expected side effect.  My encounters were mostly in hospitalized patients so I saw the sickest subset.  Cytotoxic drugs kill all rapidly reproducing cells which is why they caused so many problems.  It was non-specific killing.  WIth a novice understanding of immunology and oncology it seemed there should be a way to direct someones immune system to knock out only the bad cancer cells.

For the first time I read about this type of approach today in this article. These researchers at NIH took lymphocytes out of a cancer patient, identified which cells were successfully attacking the cancer, mass produced these cells, and reintroduced them into the patient.   Metastatic cancer disappeared. It is only one patient.  It could be coincidence.  I really hope this is the beginning of a new age in cancer care.
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