Was there really a cure for cancer? The Authors Collection.
November 20, 2014
(Megan’s Cure is the latest Enzo Lee mystery thriller. In part, it is about what happens when a medical wonder drug and its discoverer become a threat to Big Pharma. Here is a chapter. – Robert B. Lowe)
IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE for Miriam Pastor to say with absolute certainty that Megan Kim was free of cancer.
The tests had been exceedingly thorough.
Her lab had studied Megan’s blood carefully. It had collected and examined multiple tissue biopsies from the young girl. She had undergone PET scans using different radioactive tracers to isolate metabolic activity unique to cancer cells. Everything came back negative.
But who could say there wasn’t a tiny handful of cancer cells too small or too inactive to show up on the tests? You can’t check every cubic centimeter of someone’s kidneys, lungs, skin, skeleton or brain.
Within that limitation, though, the petite, gray-haired microbiologist believed that Megan Kim was clean. Given the records and tests from Megan’s period of illness more than a year earlier, either Roxaten had cured Megan or a spontaneous miracle had coincidentally occurred at the same time.
Pastor believed in singular miracles. She had seen them, giving patients life when it should have been taken away. That’s why she and scientists like her repeated experiments over and over and over again. She didn’t believe that miracles occurred on demand and in bunches.
But Pastor didn’t have the authority or time to retest Roxaten on another 50 patients – or even on five for that matter.
She had no more patients. The lab would have to suffice.
From the many vials of Megan’s blood, she converted a small amount into blood serum. She further refined the serum to isolate several types of antibodies that she believed were the most obvious candidates to have attacked Megan’s cancer. They probably were what had kept Megan’s cancer from reappearing.
The antibodies would be treated to bind with a fluorophore, a chemical compound designed to emit a florescent green light when exposed to light of a certain frequency. It was the laboratory version of the black light.
Small amounts of Megan’s treated antibodies would be applied to 86 separate slides holding a range of cancer types – thin slices of tumors preserved in paraffin. Pastor had collected the specimens from colleagues from the Mayo Clinic, Sloan-Kettering, Dana Farber and other research centers. Many of the slides came from patients having cancers in the same location – say lung cancer – but the cancer cells themselves were different types. There were six varieties of melanoma alone.
The overall goal was to see how well Megan’s antibodies could bind to the antigens present in the different cancer cells on the slides, surviving the rinses that would otherwise wash them away. In real life, such strong binding would typically be a death grip – marking the cancerous cells for destruction by the body’s white cells.
Roxaten’s potential would be measured by color. The more slides that contained the glowing green after the processing, particularly if it was of high intensity, the greater would be Roxaten’s potential as a broad-based cancer cure. It also would provide a measure of how widespread and effective the C Factor-based vaccine could be.
Pastor couldn’t sleep the night that the slides trays were left inside the Ventana autostainer at her lab. She knew that while she tossed and turned, the slides would go through nine separate processes over an eight-hour period, all of them with much greater precision than anyone could achieve by hand.
Pastor was in the lab by 6:45 a.m., long before anyone else. When she set the tray holding the first 40 slides on the table in front of her, she imagined a green glow emanating from them. She laughed at herself. It wasn’t possible. She knew her mind was playing tricks.
One by one, she placed them on the Leica MM fluorescent microscope. A lighting source underneath the slides excited any fluorophore on a slide, causing it to glow green. She zoomed in on single cells and back out to see big clusters. She recorded the images as she methodically worked her way through the tray.
When she finished, she threw up all the images on a wide computer display and scrolled through the collection.
There was green that looked as if it might be the ocean observed from far above with white lines of waves passing through. There was a field of light green with darker nuggets attached together in small clusters. There was forest green in slender stalks with a horizontal row of white filled with lime dabs in the middle, resembling a Van Gogh painting of wildflowers. And there were blobs of deep green against black that might have been some interstellar plasma in remote outer space.
Pastor saw green everywhere in a wider variety of shades and hues than she had seen the previous summer on her first trip to Ireland where the palette of green had seemed inexhaustible. The shades and shapes differed, depending upon the vagaries of the different tissue samples and the degree of magnification she had used.
Only a few of the slides contained no green at all.
Pastor’s heart was pounding as she slid the second tray of slides next to the microscope. She would finish the initial survey and then go back to methodically measure the amount of color she saw on each slide. She would repeat the process on the control slides derived from a blood sample taken from a normal healthy volunteer. Her assistant would duplicate each step later in the day as a further check.
But Pastor knew what she was seeing was huge, unprecedented and would likely alter the course of cancer treatment – perhaps even within just a few years. She was both humbled and amazed by it. She doubted that she would be any more affected if she had witnessed Krakatoa erupt or seen a star explode.
Dazed, she stood up and walked into the small kitchen off her lab where she filled a mug with hot water on top of a bag of chamomile tea. She stared out the window at the neighboring buildings, trees and streets. She blew across the top of the mug.
Pastor contemplated the email she would compose to Bernard Winthrop at NIH at the end of the day. Roxaten was the real deal, she would say. The C-Factor discovery opens a whole new front in the cancer wars, she believed. This was far too important to leave in the hands of one company motivated more by profits and share price than public health.
Then Pastor smiled at her reflection.
In the past she’d always paused in indecision whenever someone asked for her favorite color. Not anymore. From now on it would always be green.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s Megan’s Cure.