October 6th, 2016

Sacrifice for Tomorrow’s Medicine

“Taking part in NIH research is entirely voluntary. ”
“You may receive no benefit from taking part. The research may give us knowledge that may help people in the future. ”
These were words written in the first paragraph in the first letter I received from NCI. I’ve learned that cancer treatment is a gamble, but it is more so in a clinical trial. Mr. Aranami, the late chairman of TRIO (Transplant Recipients International Organization ) JAPAN, who passed away last spring with colon cancer, had said he chose the clinical trial because he wanted to contribute to the future patients, but this week knowing the fatal tragedy which happened to a breast cancer trial participant, I realized again that this perspective is so important.

She was in the study of TIL (Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes) immunotherapy, which is very much like the dendritic cell vaccine: taking out the TIL, a part of the white blood cells, which can recognize cancer cells, increasing them to be able to attack cancer, and giving them back to the body. I was interested in this trial last year and blogged about it, yet as I read an article written by a doctor, who lost his patient in this trial, I changed my mind. Then later I learned more that in this therapy a participant’s entire white cells, which cannot recognize cancer, are destroyed by chemo and completely replaced with the increased smart TIL, which can recognize cancer. There is a brave woman who went through this horrific procedure and beat the cancer, but I thought this was a life threatening therapy.

The tragedy happened when the patient’s white blood cells were destroyed by chemo. She was infected. Although her new robust TIL were transfused quickly, and they really attacked cancer cells, her infected organs kept failing and never recovered.

If I imagine the terror of her, her family, and the medical team in the last weeks, when their hope crashed into hell, I become speechless.

Is it OK to allow such a dangerous trial? I wonder, but if an object of the study is the therapy’s safety, maybe death is unable to be eliminated, and behind of the medical advance, there must be lots of sacrifices like hers.

“Unless the grain of wheat falls on to the ground and die, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produce much grains.” -John 12:24

She became the grain of wheat for our future medicine. As if a craftsman makes a beautiful stained glass from broken glass, God is able to make something beautiful even from such a tragedy. I believe so and pray so be it.