By Anna Cavallo, Associate Editor
Last week a series of articles in The New York Times caught my attention—three pieces about the roller coaster ride a few oncologists and cancer patients have been on throughout a clinical trial for a new melanoma treatment. For trial patients with a certain variety of this deadly skin cancer, the experimental drug PLX4032 had achieved astounding results, stopping or reversing the progress of the disease. For months the drug was letting patients defy the short life expectancies that come with advanced melanoma. It was the first of many genetically targeted drugs to have such long-lasting results: it “held off the cancer by blocking a particular protein in [the cancer] cells that was spurring them to multiply.” It allowed one patient who had been on a feeding tube to enjoy a cinnamon roll again; it allowed others to celebrate anniversaries and kids’ birthdays they hadn’t expected to live to see.
For me, having known a melanoma victim, these success stories caught me off-guard in a way no medical breakthrough news ever has. The possibility that scientists may actually find a cure—sooner rather than later—was overwhelming. I realized that the arrival of that miracle drug would cause me, and probably many others, to relive the loss in a new way. Science is not always fair. Why not a few days/months/years sooner? What took so long?
…I guess the logical answer seems to be because this is incredibly advanced medical science. (Which, I know, is also true for countless other modern medical treatments and those in development.) And, unfortunately, PLX4032 is still not the true melanoma miracle drug—trial patients eventually relapsed. Doctors are now pushing for it to be tested and approved in combination with other new drugs, hoping it will be effective longer.
But breakthroughs like this, in spite of past loss and frustration, make me want to hug everyone I know in the field of genetics. They make me want to support more research in whatever ways possible. And they make me want to do what I can to insure that every scientifically-inclined student today has the resources and the opportunities to feed their curiosity, develop their skills, and perhaps someday contribute to solving the medical miracles that await.
As a Lerner editor, the way for me to do this at the moment seems to be staying dedicated to producing high-quality science books. Books that will engage girls as well as boys, elementary naturalists as well as teen physicists, future oncologists as well as future engineers. We’re always thinking about which fields or approaches to science would lend well to our list in upcoming seasons, but for a few series that are already available to young scientists, check out Cool Science, Early Bird subsets (Earth Science, Astronomy, and Body Systems, to name a few), and Twenty-First Century Medical Library. Got any ideas on how else we can help foster the next generation of scientists? Leave a comment and let us know.