Medicine: Shortcut

Medicine: Shortcut
The search for a cancer vaccine has largely been a painstaking,
systematic chore of isolating some agent that might produce
cancer-killing antibodies in human patients. Last week Swedish
Immunologist Dr. Bertil Bjorklund announced that he was taking a
shortcut. Rather than waiting for time-consuming analysis, he will
inoculate humans with a complex substance that has produced favorable
cancer antibody responses using rabbits and horses. Over a seven-month
period. Bjorklund vaccine will be injected into 100 Swedish volunteers
between 60 and 70, an age group of high cancer incidence. At the end of
the year, if the volunteers show more of what Dr. Bjorklund believes to
be cancer antibodies than a comparison group of 20 unvaccinated
persons, the tests will be widened to include 1,200, then 12,000
volunteers. Bjorklund vaccine is made by grinding up cancer cells and irradiating
them with ultraviolet rays to weaken any viruses that might be present.
Dr. Bjorklund and a team of 14 other researchers, including his wife,
have been working with it, largely supported by research money from the
U.S. Government. Two years ago, Dr. Bjorklund was on the verge of
deserting his work at Sweden's State Bacteriological Laboratories when
the U.S. Public Health Service came to his rescue with a three-year
grant of $137,549.Dr. Bjorklund admits that his scheme to inoculate
human patients with the vaccine at this time is a venturesome
undertaking. But he explains that his work is at a pinnacle and he has
“the courage to take a leap.” Some of his colleagues, including Dr.
Sven Gard, professor of virology at Stockholm's Royal Caroline Institute,
fear that he may be leaping too far too fast. In the conglomeration of
materials in the Bjorklund vaccine, they argue, there may well be lurking
some ingredients that can produce harmful side effects, even disease. Dr. Bjorklund announced his scheme on television, gave his program a
sendoff by plunging a hypodermic needle into his own arm. The odds are
heavily against Dr. Bjorklund's clinical trials, as they have been
against those tried by scores of other cancer researchers. But against
such a scourge as cancer, the possible payoff is proportionate to the odds.