A number of prominent members of the multiple myeloma patient community have been emailing the link to this December 21st article from the NY Times Magazine:
I like the NY Times’ approach to journalism–in-depth, lengthy articles that don’t skimp on detail and nuance. But I think these two short excerpts capture the essence of Daniel Engber’s expose’:
Faced with this troubling complexity, doctors have fallen back on treating cancer like a game of Whac-A-Mole: find the harshest clone and knock it down, then repeat the process when the tumor reappears. Or else doctors will attack the tree right at its trunk, by finding those ancestral genes that every species in the body shares. But there’s another way to counter cancer’s biodiversity. Our bodies come equipped with a system custom-built to handle pathogens in all their many forms. If the immune organs could be activated against a cancer, we might find a pathway through the jungle and, maybe, to a cure…
More experiments are on the horizon. Jaffee is building on Steinman’s work by combining the latest round of immune boosters with a dendritic-cell vaccine. There is progress in immunotherapy for other cancers, too: ipilimumab is being used for treating melanoma, and related drugs are in the pipeline that make a tumor more vulnerable to attack. In 2011, The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a method known as “adoptive T-cell transfer,” in which T-cells are extracted from the body and reprogrammed to go after cancer cells. This has proved a potent treatment for some patients with advanced leukemia, but it poses greater health risks than the vaccines that rely on dendritic cells. “We’re going to learn a lot over the next 10 years,” Jaffee said, as we walked through the lab. “We’re just at the beginning. This is going to be the start of a whole new field.”
It’s a must-read for anyone interested in how vaccines and other immunotherapeutic approaches are developed and applied in live patients.
As the article states, this approach is still in it’s infancy. But faster and more and more advanced computers–along with a willingness by researchers to share their findings with others–give hope that immunotherapy research may advance exponentially faster than in the past.
Myeloma patient activist, Jack Aiello, wrote about the subject in a recent email:
It’s interesting to see how studies with personal vaccines, even for myeloma, have been going on since I was diagnosed in 1995. I remember a 1995 article featuring Dr Larry Kwak (now at MD Anderson) who treated an MM patient with a vaccine made from her twin. In the mid-90’s I signed up for a dendritic vaccine trials at Little Rock. Most recently Dr Carl Jung at U of Penn has shown some success with vaccine development for 3 other blood cancer (I think) patients. Hope someday a technique is successfully developed…
Me too, Jack! Feel good and keep smiling! Pat