Invest in Science But Don't Forget the Miracles

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, M.D. is deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. In his popular cancer blog, Dr. Len relates a story told by Dr. John Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, at a recent gathering of oncologists. The story, he says, demonstrates the power of research and miracles ... reminding us that the quest to end cancer will depend on both.

Dr. Niederhuber presented the case of a young mother in her late 20s with an extensive, uncommon cancer called cutaneous T cell lymphoma.

She came to the National Cancer Institute's main campus in Bethesda, Maryland near the end of her life.  Weak, unable to move, she arrived wrapped in blankets because her skin was so cracked it could not retain her body heat.

The young woman received several investigational therapies, but none were successful.  She was placed in hospice care.

Dr. Niederhuber then spoke about what anyone would call a miracle.

The NCI has a program to accelerate the investigation of drugs that appear promising.  These may be drugs which had been tried unsuccessfully before, but have been "rediscovered" based on new research or theoretical considerations.

NCI had such a drug that had been tried and failed, but one researcher made the case that this drug could be effective against T cell lymphomas.

The lady received the drug.  Her response was miraculous, and she is cancer free today, several years after she was the first human with her form of cancer to receive the drug.

Miracles are very rare. The real message is that we must continue to have hope while we work to make today's miracles tomorrow's realities. We must never stop providing resources for our scientists, especially the new investigators with bright, bold new ideas.

As Dr. Niederhuber pointed out, we need to take our discoveries from the bench to the bedside, and then throughout the country and the world.  We must find the ways to move discoveries and miracles into every corner of this country, for every person with cancer who can benefit from them.

Read the full text of Dr. Len's post here.