A readable survey of the emerging field of immunotherapy in cancer treatment.



Imagine a vaccine that could cure cancer. As this book reports, that possibility may not be far off.

Cancer treatment has long relied on “cut, burn, and poison” methods: surgery, which science journalist Graeber (The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, 2013) notes has been with us for thousands of years, coupled with the more modern radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy leverages the body’s natural defense systems, made up of hundreds of millions of cells that are constantly “searching [for] and destroying the invaders that make us sick and the body cells that have become infected, mutated, or defective”—all of which describe cancer. Immunotherapy, in short, unlocks the natural-born cancer killer within, which is no easy task, inasmuch as a hallmark of cancer is its ability to lurk within the body undetected until, at least of old, it is too late. As the author chronicles, scientists have yet to completely understand the workings of the T cell “as the serial-killing attacker of foreign cells,” but they have figured out what switches that cell on: a system of responses that are “something like how multiple keys are required to unlock a nuclear button or to open a safe deposit box.” This helps moderate a constant danger that the immune system responses can sometimes lead to autoimmune diseases, where the cells lock onto the wrong thing; thus the “many redundancies and fail-safe feedback loops built into the immune response.” Enough has been learned that previously discarded immunotherapies are being studied to determine whether they would work “with the brakes off,” after having been paired with a “checkpoint inhibitor.” Graeber reports that immunology researchers are promising more soon—more drugs, more fast-tracking to get therapies into hospitals, more “biomarkers to better describe cancer with molecular specificity." Though sometimes clumsily written, the book offers hope for more effective treatments in the near future.

A readable survey of the emerging field of immunotherapy in cancer treatment.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4555-6850-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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