The Breakthrough by Charles Graeber [8/10]

The hottest topic in cancer research and treatment has been tackled to thunderous effect by journalist and writer Charles Graeber. If you know or knew someone with cancer (I do), read “The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer” to get a glimpse into this formerly controversial but now mainstream field. We’re all familiar with what the author calls “cut, burn, and poison” methods of tackling the Big C but immunotherapy is different. Hugely complex, it involves revving up our own immune system to massacre cancer cells, at the same time as cancers mutate to hide and to trick our immune system, all the while ensuring we don’t tip our body over into autoimmune diseases as savage as cancer. Graeber is an exceptional plain-English explainer and storyteller and he plots the thrilling history of immunotherapy’s many debacles and seeming rise from oblivion. Stories of survivors and non-survivors sit alongside the “hunt for the Holy Grail” tales of researchers and cancer specialists. If I remain bewildered by T cells and CAR-T and “checkpoint inhibitors,” at least now I can sense this cutting edge of medical science, and for that I’m immensely grateful.

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