Personalized Medicine Redux

He hoped to reprogram his immune cells to defeat his cancer — to concoct a set of treatments from his body’s own ingredients, which could take over from his chemotherapy and form a customized, dynamic treatment for his disease. These would be as far from off-the-shelf as medicines can get: vaccines designed for the tumor in his gut, made from the products of his plasma, that could only ever work for him.

Steinman would be the only patient in this makeshift trial, but the personalized approach for which he would serve as both visionary and guinea pig has implications for the rest of us. It is known as cancer immunotherapy, and its offshoots have just now begun to make their way into the clinic, and treatments have been approved for tumors of the skin and of the prostate.

Daniel Engber in NYT Magazine.

Comments (5)

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  1. Ashley says:

    “He said to me, ‘You know, all this time has gone by, and we haven’t cured cancer or found a vaccine for H.I.V.’ ” And then he paused, and told her, “We’ve got to get to work.”

    A touching piece.

  2. Kyle says:

    This really was a good piece. He kind of had that mad scientist thing going for it. I couldn’t imagine injecting myself with drugs based on a single trial with mice.

  3. Buster says:

    This type of personalized care is very interesting. Scientists tell us that our bodies contain large numbers of cancer cells. But experts don’t understand why our immune system kills some cancers while allowing others to grow.

  4. Neil Caffrey says:

    Very good article!

  5. Gabriel Odom says:

    “[E]ven a single cancer patient carries a private ecosystem of pathology within her body, a tropical rain forest of disease. If the old chemotherapies and radioactive treatments worked like napalm to blast away the canopy, the new breed of personalized therapies target only specific plants. For some cancers, the more homogeneous ones, they do the job just fine. For others, though, the approach comes up against the relentless rules of Darwinian selection. Wipe out one subtype of a cancer — the clone that seems most aggressive, say, or the one that’s most prevalent in a biopsy — and you may have slowed the disease or thinned it out. But the cells left behind might represent a fitter strain and fill the niche.”

    Considering that radiation therapy destroys the healthy cells with the cancerous, I am very happy that we are finally to the point that we can research ways to target the specific malignant cells.