Immunotherapy seeks to get the immune system to stir up a molecular ""commotion in the blood"" to battle disease. This...


"A COMMOTION IN THE BLOOD: Life, Death, and the Immune System"

Immunotherapy seeks to get the immune system to stir up a molecular ""commotion in the blood"" to battle disease. This sweeping yet remarkably detailed report focuses on the efforts to use immunotherapy in the fight against cancer. Science journalist Hall (Mapping the Next Millennium, 1991, etc.) opens with an account of William Coley, a 19th-century American physician whose pioneering use of a crude cancer vaccine can now be seen as the beginning of cancer immunotherapy in this country. As Hall points out, neither Coley nor his critics had ""the foggiest notion of the cells, the molecules, and the order of interaction involved in the immune response,"" an ignorance that today is finally lifting. The scene next shifts to 1950s London and the discovery of the much-ballyhooed interferon, which in turn led to the discovery of a host of other factors involved in immunological responses. Among these are interleukin-2, discovered in 1976 in one of Robert Gallo's laboratories and made famous by Steven Rosenberg in his work at the National Cancer Institute, and interleukin-12, the current favorite. Along the way, Hall details the development of T-cell-specific antibodies, the tumor necrotizing factor, and monoclonal antibodies. He seems to have interviewed just about every major immunology researcher, and he makes vivid their political maneuverings in the race for scientific primacy. The journey of a new therapeutic tool from laboratory to clinic is a hazardous one, and Hall makes it both understandable and exciting. He also shows us the hype that surrrounds each new ""magic bullet"" and the inevitable letdown when each one fails to live up to its hype. In the end, Hall leaves the reader optimistic that the ""commotion in the blood"" is not random noise but a ""beautifully scored piece of music"" that future researchers will be able to read. As gripping as a spy thriller.

Pub Date: June 1, 1997


Page Count: 448

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997