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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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