Health: Medical advances encourage

by Judy Ferro

Looking for some good news? Read about medical advances.

I know it’s popular—and facile—to attack a health industry that seems focused on big profits. I might have said some words myself when my cost after insurance for an ounce of glaucoma medicine was $90 a month. When the chips are down, however, I appreciate the near-miracles I’ve seen through the years.

This month I’ve seen write-ups on Stanford University advances that may make a huge difference in the treatment of strokes and cancer.

Existing treatments can make a big difference if applied just hours after a stroke. A recent study indicates that Stanford may have found one that works days—even years—after.

Basically, researchers drill a small hole through the skull and deposit adult stem cells around the periphery of the brain’s damaged area. Stem cells could adapt to many tasks; could they also work as brain cells?

Overall, patients had an 11% improvement in mobility. Some, however, improved immensely—going from wheelchair to walking.

Would the improvement last beyond the life of the injected stem cells?

It did.   Two years later patients are not only maintaining mobility, but making further improvements.

Developments in cancer research are equally encouraging. Some years ago researchers noted that no cancer had been traced to a blood transfusion even though thousands of people have undiagnosed cancers.

They asked if it is possible that cancer cells’ ability to mask themselves from the immune system works only on the original host. Can people develop antibodies to transfused cancer cells? And, if so, can such antibodies then be injected into the original cancer patient?

It took some fine-tuning, but eventually they could wipe out a cancer by taking antibodies from a recipient of cancer cells and injecting them back into the patient

We must wait for results of clinical trials on human. Still, the possibility of a treatment for many different types of cancer is exciting.

I don’t know enough about the science to say this treatment differs from the immunology therapy that Mary Elizabeth Williams writes about in her new book A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles. Williams had been through two previous series of treatments for melanoma before starting immunology. She writes that three months of treatment—during which she lost neither her hair nor her appetite—made her well.

Unfortunately, our system requires that universities sell such advances to medical marketing companies. Supposedly, the idea was that others could do a better job than the universities at seeing to the manufacture and distribution of their discoveries. In practice, it has meant that taxpayers fund much of our medical research but a corporation gets the patent and the right to make outrageous charges.

Many in medicine are doing amazing things. It’s up to the voters to see that people may actually benefit.