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8 - The Cancer Moonshot

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2021

Eben Kirksey
Affiliation:
Deakin University, Victoria
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Summary

Carl June—the scientist who was questioned about social inequality, ethics, and scientific profiteering by the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee—passes as white, though in an earlier era he might have been excluded from science by the one-drop rule. His great-great-grandmother was black. When we talked I noted that the Cancer Survivor Hall of Fame was an uncomfortably white space. “The recruitment thing is a very complex issue,” June said. As a result of abuse in the recent past, many historically disadvantaged communities have a “healthy distrust” of science. “And then there's the fact to actually be on a trial you have to not be in poverty,” he continued. The uninsured and urban poor cannot afford routine cancer screenings, much less the other out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with an experiment. “Like 25 percent of the African Americans in Philadelphia are below the poverty line. So they can't go on trials because, you know, they’re just trying to survive.”

In addition to dedicating his life to curing cancer, Carl June has worked throughout his career to promote diversity in science, giving opportunities to young researchers from Asia and Latin America as well as minority communities in the United States. He is also in a position to reap huge prof-its and professional accolades from his medical breakthroughs. From this position of relative privilege and power, June could be doing more to give disadvantaged communities access to experimental medicine.

As I talked with Carl June about his latest research—the first CRISPR experiment approved in the United States—I came to realize that gene editing was the least interesting part of the story. The new study aimed to develop a cancer cure by improving the design of CAR T cells—a living therapy on the frontier of personalized medicine. The special T cells that treated Nicholas Wilkins and others in the hall of fame were genetically modified to have chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) on their surface. The chimera of Greek mythology was a fire-breathing monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. The chimeric receptors on the T cells were simply a synthetic collection of different molecular parts that had been designed to target particular kinds of cancer.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Mutant Project
Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans
, pp. 88 - 92
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • The Cancer Moonshot
  • Eben Kirksey, Deakin University, Victoria
  • Book: The Mutant Project
  • Online publication: 18 December 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.46692/9781529217315.009
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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

  • The Cancer Moonshot
  • Eben Kirksey, Deakin University, Victoria
  • Book: The Mutant Project
  • Online publication: 18 December 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.46692/9781529217315.009
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • The Cancer Moonshot
  • Eben Kirksey, Deakin University, Victoria
  • Book: The Mutant Project
  • Online publication: 18 December 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.46692/9781529217315.009
Available formats
×