A cure for cancer has been called the last frontier of medicine. President Obama recently called for a "moonshot" to find safe and effective ways of eliminating cancer cells from our bodies.
Words such as "frontier" and "moonshot" are the language of distance. But for Dr. Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., the cure is very near—inside our own bodies, in fact.
Rosenberg is one of the leading developers of immunotherapy as a cancer-fighting tool. Instead of trying to bring such external forces as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to bear on a tumor, immunotherapy harnesses the body's own abilities to attack cancer cells.
It's been 40 years since Rosenberg created Interleukin-2, the world's first effective immunotherapy technique. In that time, immunotherapy has gone from being an obscure possibility to the foundation of a national cancer strategy that includes multimillion-dollar grants to universities, massive investment by pharmaceutical companies, and billions raised in initial public offerings.
All that progress doesn't mean we have a cure. Immunotherapy has been our most promising weapon to battle cancer, but it still does far better with cancers of the blood than with the more common solid tumors.
"Until we can apply effective treatments to all innocent people who develop cancer," Rosenberg said, "there's plenty of work to be done."