Immunotherapy Series

“Give me the power to produce fever and I will cure all diseases”.

—Parmenides

Parmenides was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from the 6th century B.C.

Now to a topic I have wanted to write about for a long, long time—immunotherapy. This topic is broad, and I could spend years writing about it. So, check back often, as we will be doing a multi-part series on this  topic.

Why would the subject of immunotherapy be so expansive? Because the topic covers so many areas. It is the new frontier of cancer treatment, but it is not a new frontier at all from a historical perspective (I will explain more on this later.) And I am not talking about immunotherapy from the conventional mindset, which is what new drug can we make. This discussion on immunotherapy will encompass several series, so stay tuned.

The An Oasis of Healing approach to cancer involves three broad pillars:

  • Stop making cancer
  • Target and eliminate cancer
  • Enhance the immune system

Dr. Lodi has written and talked about these three pillars for years. In reality, immunotherapy works in all three (3) An Oasis of Healing pillars. At An Oasis of Healing, we choose to work with the immune system through a variety of means, including:

  1. nutrition
  2. hormones
  3. neurotransmitters
  4. detoxification
  5. immune system enhancement
  6. immune system augmentation

All, in time, will be reviewed and discussed.

Think of the immune system through an engineer’s mind. There is no need to re-create the wheel of the immune system. The wheel of the immune system already exists. The problem is that the immune system is dysfunctional, suppressed, and is turned on itself in the process of cancer. The immune system’s job is to protect the body from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. We are all familiar with foreign enemies, i.e., bacteria, viruses, parasites. Cancer is a domestic enemy. The problem within the internal environment of cancer is that the immune system is not doing its job. Again, there is no need to re-create this wheel; just support the wheel to do its job again. At An Oasis of Healing, we do not think that one must tear things down to then rebuild. No need to deconstruct to reconstruct; only repair and restore. That is perspective unfortunately permeates a lot of conventional medicine today. We physicians should not and are not here to play God. We work to support the created immune system in performing its job again. After all, the word doctor in Latin is translated teacher, Docēre, and the word physician, rāphè, in Hebrew is translated, healer. There is nothing in our history that implies destruction in any task of medicine. We are teachers that heal. I wonder how many doctors have this perspective. As a patient, which we are all, that should be the perspective we want from our doctors.

What is Immunotherapy?

That answer depends on who you are talking to. According to conventional medicine, immunotherapy is simply the new, 4th pillar of modern cancer treatment. The unholy trinity of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation has failed, so add something new is the answer. I give you the savior, 4th in line, immunotherapy. From the conventional medicinal mindset, the paradigm is the same. It does have unique names, a new category, different targets, but it is the same old paradigm that has over-promised and underperformed. Why? It simply misses the mark. Instead of conducting interference and obstruction in the cell growth cycle, as in the standard full dose or high-dose chemotherapy, conventional immunotherapy conducts interference and obstruction in the immune system. Same general paradigm, new target, same failed approach. In the perspective of cancer, conventional medicine approaches the immune system as if the immune system is the problem. It is the same error in thinking that it brought to cancer with the other conventional medical pillars of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Cancer is not the cause; cancer is the result of the causes. Cancer is the effect. It is the environment within the body that creates and allows cancer to exist. Likewise, the tumor environment creates the dysfunction in the immune system that allows cancer to begin, grow, and spread.

The ‘An Oasis of Healing’ approach to immunotherapy is very different—a non-conventional approach. Some would call it an alternative or a natural approach. I like to think of it as more common-sense. I like to call it an integrative, holistic approach. Most important, it is also an evidence-based approach. It is the evidence that demands the move towards a more natural approach in cancer treatment for healing. It is more consistent with the historical norms of healing. It is also a more historical holistic approach consistent with Western medicine’s traditional fathers, such as Hippocrates. The focus was on healing and not on disease management. Remember, dis-ease means the lack of wellness; thus, disease management is just the management of the lack of wellness. It does nothing to promote healing and restore wellness. At An Oasis of Healing, we work to integrate with the immune system to help augment and enhance the immune system to perform its job better. Also, Dr. Lodi and I choose to focus on the root causes of the dysfunction, the cause of immunosuppression, and the reason for immune escape that plagues the immune systems attack on cancer. There are already enough causes of cancer, no reason to add to them. I discussed many of the holistic causes of cancer in a previous series, so check those out here.

The difference between ‘conventional’ and ‘integrative’ immunotherapy is one of interference and coherence. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, interference is defined as a “disturbance, hindrance, inhibition”, and coherence is defined as “forming a unified whole”. Conventional medicine and marketing portray the idea that immunotherapy is a drug that provides disturbance, hindrance, and inhibition within the immune system to manage cancer. That is conventional medicine’s high jack of the word ‘immunotherapy’. Conventional immunotherapy is really an approach of interference, and the goal is disruption and obstruction. Only from this warped perspective can the immune system dysfunction that exists with cancer be corrected through obstruction. In reality, conventional immunotherapy is nothing more than modern-day chemotherapy that works in the immune system.

In contrast, at An Oasis of Healing, immunotherapy refers to all therapies that work within the immune system to restore the immune system, strengthen the immune system, and balance the immune system, thereby restoring wellness. Immunotherapy can be conventional, natural, or both—integrative. We, of course, prefer the natural route. Sometimes the integration of the two provides a better approach. Approximately 90% of our therapies at An Oasis of Healing are natural.

The target of immunotherapy is not dis-ease, which is the lack of wellness, but instead, the target is wellness. It is only within this context, can dis-ease be eliminated for the short and long term. Forget five-year survivals. We should not limit patients to this five year minimum but set our goals on a maximum, far beyond five years. Who are we to limit outcomes? Integrative, holistic immunotherapy is a coherent approach with the immune system to restore the “whole”. Only through the whole can healing achieve wellness.

Why is immunotherapy important in cancer?

The immune system is involved in every step of cancer. There is no step of cancer left un-marked by the potential impact of the immune system. From Carcinogenesis, through the growth, proliferation, and invasion phases, through the immune escape, and even to the recurrence and metastasis phases of cancer, the immune system’s action, inaction, or dysfunction is involved.  It is the tumor and the local tumor microenvironment that is creating the interference in many cases. Cancer through the local tumor microenvironment creates immune dysfunction, immunosuppression. Cancer can even outright hide from the immune system (like a Klingon cloaking device for all you Trekkies out there). Most importantly, cancer and the local tumor microenvironment use the same immune system, which is designed to destroy cancer, to protect itself from the immune system. This involvement of the immune system at every step of cancer requires the immune system’s use at every step to healing.

Origins of Immunotherapy

Where did it all start?

Dr. William B. Coley is considered the father of modern-day immunotherapy. According to the Iowa Orthopedic Journal [1]:

“William Coley’s intuitions were correct: Stimulating the immune system may be effective in treating cancer. He was a model of the clinician-scientist, treating patients and using his practice to initiate research and build theories. But he was a man before his time, and he was met with severe criticism. Despite this criticism, however, Coley stuck with his ideas, and today we are recognizing their potential value.”

Despite the title of father of modern-day immunotherapy, there was very little public and no conventional medicine praise for Dr. Coley. He was often ostracized due to his radical thinking that yielded significantly positive results in terminal cancer patients, particularly sarcomas. The American Cancer Society went so far as to label his work with Coley’s toxins as unproven in 1965. Unfortunately, that statement and decision by the American Cancer Society were without merit and, in fact, lacked data for support. They reversed their action just ten years later. Were they enlightened only ten years later? I doubt it. It just points to the calculated political first move in 1965.  His work in the immune system at the time was countered by the rise and narrative of chemotherapy and radiation. Only after his death in 1936 was Dr. Coley’s contribution known, and he eventually was given the title of father of modern-day immunotherapy. This title was despite the readily available historical precedence for the spontaneous regression [2] [3] [4] of tumors due to immune system activation. The Egyptian physician, and recent Mummy film fame, Imhotep (2600 BC), the patron saint of cancer patients, Peregrine Laziosi (1265–1345), and Dr. Busch, who in 1868, intentionally infected a patient with a sarcoma with erysipelas for regression, recorded numerous examples of spontaneous regression of tumors. A 1965 article found long-term survival up to 47 years as a result of Coley’s toxins [5]. Now that is spontaneous regression, more aptly called healing. Julius Wagner-Jauregg received the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1927 for similar infection-induced healing for neurosyphilis [6].

Isn’t it interesting that spontaneous regression reports are as rare as they are today, in the era of modern immunotherapy? I mean, if we are in the medical era of immunotherapy, it would seem that spontaneous regressions would be the norm. Because they are not, points to the error in the conventional perspective and approach. Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and now immunotherapy is the same song, different verse.

It is funny how history repeats itself; you challenge the status quo and the paradigm to push the envelope of knowledge for healing patients, and the result is the marginalization, ostracization, and labeling as a heretic, alternative, or a more modern move—a quack. It is all just a means to marginalize someone or their argument when one desires to avoid a debate or when one has lost the debate’s high ground. Or worse, when one does not know the content of the debate. But, as is always the case, history gets the last word, and its word is always right.

Dr. William Coley worked within the immune system. He did not re-create the wheel; he just sought to use it. Dr. Coley was a conventional physician that was disillusioned with the lack of treatment success in cancer. He came back to the immune system, seeking answers, resulting from surgical failure in a patient with sarcoma in 1891. Surgical failures for cancer treatment are nothing new today or yesterday. His treatment became known as Coley’s toxins [7] [8].

Coley’s toxins was an injection mixture of treatment killed Streptococcus pyogenes and Serratia marcescens. This combined cocktail could be injected directly into the tumor or given intravenously. Coley’s toxins were used in thousands of patients with a wide spectrum of cancer types, including melanoma, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, cervical, testicular, colorectal, renal, breast, and ovarian cancer [9]. Interestingly, fever and chills (40-41 C) was a prerequisite for the best results, including complete long-term remission. In addition, a significant volume of broad, supportive scientific publications proved the effectiveness of Coley’s toxins in advanced cancer patients. The lack of a consistent fever and treatment response, rise of radiation and chemotherapy, and general lack of medical acceptance of the immune system involvement in cancer were the beginning of the end for Coley’s toxins. The FDA’s classification of Coley’s toxins as a new drug in 1964 was the final nail in the coffin. Only with the modern-day, conventional medicine Great Awakening (insert sarcasm) of the immune system involvement in cancer, including drugs ready to go, did immunotherapy take its rightful place of importance in the cause and treatment of cancer. In reality, Dr. Coley was working with the immune system. Dr. Coley was working with hyperthermia.

“We have listened to nature; we have attempted to imitate the method by which nature itself produces cures”.

—Wagner-Jarrett

Join me for the upcoming series that will dive deep into the world of hyperthermia, its benefits, and its mechanisms in the treatment of cancer. Would the real hyperthermia please stand up!

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[1] McCarthy EF. The toxins of William B. Coley and the treatment of bone and soft-tissue sarcomas. Iowa Orthop J. 2006; 26:154-8.

[2] Hoption Cann SA, van Netten JP, van Netten C, Glover DW. Med Hypotheses. 2002 Feb;58(2):115-9. doi: 10.1054/mehy.2001.1469.

[3] Nauts HC. Breast cancer: immunological factors affecting incidence, prognosis, and survival. Monograph No 18. New York: Cancer Research Institute, 1984.

[4] Nauts HC. The beneficial effects of bacterial infections on host resistance to cancer: end results in 449 cases. 2nd Ed. Monograph No 8. New York: Cancer Research Institute, 1980.

[5] Grabstald H. Unproven Methods of cancer Treatment : Coley’s Mixed Toxins. CA Cancer J Clin. 1965 May-Jun; 15:139-40

[6] Whitrow M. Wagner-Jauregg and fever therapy. Med Hist1990; 34:294–310

[7] Coley WB. The treatment of inoperable sarcoma with the mixed toxins of erysipelas and bacillus prodigiousus—immediate and final results in one hundred and forty cases. JAMA. 1898; 31:389-421.

[8] Coley WB. The treatment of malignant tumors by repeated inoculations of erysipelas with a report of ten original cases. Am J Med Sci. 1893; 105:487-511.

[9] Bickels J, Kollender Y, Merinsky O, Meller I. Coley’s toxin: Historical Perspectives. IMAJ. 2002; 4:471-472.

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