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They Took A Risk For The US – & Trump’s Ban Leaves Them In The Cold

Ambassador William J. Burns

(Forbes) – The first episode in the Ken Burns documentary aired Monday night and is now available through PBS online here. The six-hour, three-night documentary is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee.

As to be expected with any Ken Burns production, the sweep and scope is rich in every detail. The selection of PBS as the broadcast venue is an important contribution that will allow millions of Americans to see the landmark series for free and commercial free (either on PBS directly or streamed through PBS Online).

Here are the top 10 quotes (in relatively sequential order) from the first of the three episodes titled simply ‘Magic Bullets.’

Cancer is a worldwide scourge. The fastest growing disease on earth. By 2030 there will be as many as 22 million cases worldwide. Cancer afflicts 1.7 million Americans each year and kills 600,000 of them. More will die from cancer over the next 2 years than died in combat in all the wars the United States has ever fought ? combined.” Edward Hermann (who died December 31, 2014  of brain cancer shortly after completing narration for the series)

When we made ward rounds, someone would say ‘leukemia’ and that would be the signal to sort of shake your head ? too bad ? and move on. I remember one child? a girl. She looked at me. “I’m dying. I’m dying. Can’t you save me Dr. Pinkel? Can’t you save me?” Donald Pinkel, MD ? Former Director of St. Jude Children’s Hospital

People would say to [cancer pioneer Sidney] Farber ? why aren’t you letting these children die in peace? Why are you performing experiments ? they’re going to be futile anyway. Everyone knows that a chemical can’t cure cancer. Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD

Cancer is as old as human life itself. The first known written reference to cancer appears in a 15 foot papyrus prepared by an Egyptian physician 4,000 years ago. He numbered all the diseases and their treatments known to the ancient world. Case number 45 refers to ? swellings of the breast, large, spreading and hard. Under the section titled treatment it reads simply ? there is none. Edward Hermann, Narrator

The bone marrow where we normally produce blood is kind of like your lawn and leukemia is like weeds so leukemia can overtake the normal grass and kill it. So it’s not enough just to mow the lawn. You’ve got to go and get the roots of all of the weeds and get all of the leukemia cells out in order for the grass to be healthy again.Patrick Brown, MD ? Director Pediatric Leukemia, Kimmel Cancer Center

All of this was trial and error. Many, many mistakes were made. Some of the most tragic mistakes were the deaths of the early investigators themselves who often died of leukemia ? of bone and other cancers that were caused by the radiation that they didn’t understand was a very potent carcinogen. Allen Lichter, MD – Radiation Oncologist

What lengths are we willing to go in the attempt to cure a child. We are quite willing to push the envelope in terms of toxicity ? because we know what’s at stake is the rest of the child’s life, you know, and that’s potentially a very long life if they can be cured. Patrick Brown, MD ? Director Pediatric Leukemia, Kimmel Cancer Center

German Scientist Paul Ehrlich called these hypothetical drugs “magic bullets.” Edward Hermann, Narrator

The National Cancer Act [1971] was a paradigm change. It was the selling of a dream ? to not only look to government for the kinds of sums which would be very hard to raise even with the most generous of philanthropists ? but also to create an entity based on a promise and that was the cure of cancer.  Jerome Groopman, MD ? Author/Scientist

Today, more than half-a-century after Sidney Farber’s first chemotherapy trials, childhood leukemia has a survival rate of nearly 90%. The era of bold and ceaseless experimentation ? borne mostly by children ? led to the most elusive of achievements. A cure. Edward Hermann, Narrator

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