Medical News To Be Thankful For

Some filibuster-reform in the Senate and the Pope expressing himself on the subject of global capitalism aren’t the only events in the news to be thankful for. For example, an editorial and an accompanying story in The New Scientist call attention to a promising development in the treatment of cancer:

Cancer is a many-headed hydra: it rapidly out-evolves treatments that target specific features of cancer cells. Even superficially identical tumours contain many different mutations, making therapy for one type useless against others.

Armed with this information, researchers are focusing on approaches that stimulate patients’ own immune systems to attack their tumour. Unlike drugs, immune systems can evolve as the cancer does, staying one step ahead of new mutations. This is how treatments based on a type of white blood cell called T-cells are curing some cancers, rather than just slowing their advance.

This new therapy involves immune cells taken from the patient and then genetically-engineered to attack the patient’s cancer cells. The modified T-cells leave healthy cells alone. Earlier this year, one patient’s “incurable” leukemia disappeared in eight days.

I have no idea whether this treatment will eventually lead to a cure for cancer (and one that is available to lots of patients), but using genetic engineering to help the body’s own immune system attack cancer sounds like an important step in the right direction.

From the New Scientist article: