The Big IF in Cancer

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Strander has also used IF with seven children who have an appalling condition called juvenile laryngeal papillomatosis. In this disease, noncancerous, wartlike growths cover the vocal cords of the victim, sometimes filling up the entire larynx so that the child can barely breathe. The only treatment has been to cut them out, but they tend to recur quickly, requiring new surgery; one of Strander's patients had had 400 operations. Here too IF worked, though it was unclear whether its antiviral or antigrowth action was responsible. It diminished the growths in four cases and completely eliminated them in three. When the injections stop, though, the growths recur. Says Strander: "We're now trying to work out a maintenance schedule."

Strander's results sounded exciting to Dr. Jordan Gutterman, of the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston. He flew to Sweden to observe Strander's work, and soon became a convert. Says he: "There was no question. He was having good results." Back home, Gutterman obtained money from a private foundation to buy enough Finnish IF to try it on 38 patients with advanced breast cancer, multiple myeloma or lymphoma. Again the results were encouraging. Seven of 17 breast cancer patients had positive results, as did six of ten with myeloma and six of eleven with lymphoma.

Midway during this study, with some favorable response already obvious, Gutterman applied to the A.C.S. for money to expand the research. To support his appeal, he noted among other evidence the response of his first breast cancer patient: "She had a mass under her left arm, and couldn't raise her arm. Within 48 hours of her first injection, she could lift it." Another breast cancer victim is in remission after 15 months of interferon therapy. Gutterman also reports a wide range of sensitivity among patients, some showing improvement within 48 to 72 hours and a 50% reduction in the size of their tumors within three to four weeks after IF therapy. One patient with myeloma received interferon for three months with no apparent effect. But one month after the treatment ended, his tumor began to shrink. Presumably IF had had a delayed effect.

Gutterman's application to the A.C.S. reached the desk of Frank Rauscher, who before becoming the society's research chief in 1976 had been director of the National Cancer Institute for five years. At the institute he had been urged repeatedly to "do something about interferon." But Rauscher, himself a virologist, had moved cautiously. He did send an NCI team to Sweden to look at Strander's IF tests with bone cancer, and the institute co-sponsored a 1975 interferon conference in Manhattan. But during his tenure, Rauscher increased the NCI commitment to interferon by a scant $1 million yearly. Says he: "Quite frankly, I dragged my feet?in part because I didn't believe the results. They could be explained by other factors. Strander's study was not rigidly controlled; it didn't have the built-in scientific safeguards." He was also worried about possibly "killing something good" only because there was not enough of it for a really fair test. "I was about the most negative person in the country about interferon."

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