Stanford researchers just announced that by using a new antibody against a cell protein called CD47, along with an existing anti-cancer antibody, they were able to cure well over half of a group of mice with human non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Their paper appears in the journal Cell.) This is particularly promising because there is an abundance of CD47 on many other human cancers - such as breast, bladder, skin, brain and lung cancer - and the potential benefit might be extended to these other malignancies.
I had been hearing about this result around the labs for a while, and when I learned in early August that the research would be published I was excited that we would soon be able to talk about it publicly. But that excitement was tempered by a sad counterpoint.
That same week I read in a local newspaper a story about a non-Hodgkins lymphoma patient, Vallejo, Calif. police sergeant Brian Carter. Carter, a 36-year old father of two young boys, had been diagnosed last year and had beaten back the cancer with chemotherapy. But the leukemia returned this year, stronger than before, and at the time I read the story, Carter was searching for a compatible donor for a bone marrow transplant. Happily, I’ve since learned that a matched donor had been found and his chances of successful treatment are good, but there are many people around the world in the same situation who won't be so lucky.
I see the same mixed feelings all the time among cancer stem cell researchers. Many of the researchers are also physicians who treat patients, and they know existing cancer therapies are not effective enough for many - which is why they went into the lab in the first place. They’re excited to be making real progress, but at the same time they know research can only move so fast.
As for this promising research, science has not progressed to the point where people can be treated. But "we want to bring this to patients as quickly as we can," MD/PhD student Mark Chao and co-first author of the release, said in a release. Plans are already in the works to create a human version of the anti-CD47 antibody and prepare for a clinical trial within a couple years, which is about as fast as the process can go.