The role of scientists is to make observations, do experiments from hypothesis about how and why things happen. Sometimes thousands of words and evidence can support ideas like the geometry of the earth.
Many people have struggles to understand things in the past and the present for a lot of reasons for preconceived notions about a field research to technological imitation.
So it’s sometime fun to lookout about whose ideas were ruled up by their contemporaries even though we now know that these scientists were on to something.
1862, William B. Coley was a bone cancer surgeon in New York. He had seen many patient die after a tumor was removed or even an entire limb was amputated. Physicians knew that the rapidly dividing cancer cells could spread but the mechanics behind metastasis were cells hitch or ride in blood and other fluid and start growing somewhere else.
So, Coley was determined to find a more effective way to stop cancer from taking lives. He began to look through the records of New York hospital where he worked and he came across a patient from 1883 who had a cancer as a tumor in his neck that couldn’t be removed through surgery. That tumor seemed to vanish after the patient developed a skin infection called erysipelas usually caused by streptococci bacteria.
Coley tracked that patient down and found that 7 years later that tumor hadn’t re-grown and he found dozens of papers describing infections somehow reducing cancer cells.
So in 1891, Coley injected streptococcal bacteria into a patient dying of bone cancer who made what seemed like a miraculous recovery.
Now, keep in mind that the ethics of many medical treatments at that time were super questionable or non-existent and this was no exception. After that first success, Coley kept trying and while next few patients had tumor shrinkage, they died from bacterial infection.
Coley published those findings and he tried to make his technique less dangerous using a combination of a heat-killed strep species with another bacterium. The mixture became generally known as Coley’s toxin.
He treated nearly 1,000 cancer patients over the next 40 years with it and published more than 150 papers about his work.
Although Coley was reportedly successful, his tests were inconsistent. For instant, he switched up the bacteria he injected and the injection sites and he didn’t reliably follow up with treated patients. Needless to say that it lead to a great deal of skepticism from other physicians which totally make sense.
In 1894, The Journal of the American Medical Association released the statement that deemed Coley’s work a failure. It reported that “NO WELL AUTHENTICATED CASE OF RECOVERY” had been reported because of toxic injections.
But Coley continued to practice with his toxins until the end of his career in 1993 and by then, other doctors has started using them too. Even The Journal of the American Medical Association changed its tune.
In 1934, they agreed that these toxins may have some medical value in treating persistent cancer. Once radiation and chemotherapy came around in the mid 1800, Coley’s toxins albeit disappeared. In 1962, the FDA(The Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments) refused to back it as a legitimate way to treat cancer. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the researchers started looking into the idea of cancer immunotherapy.
They started to understand the ways the immune system could be activated to recognize and kill the rapidly dividing cancer cells. And now scientists are working on all kinds of cancer treatments, now with a bunch of questionably harmful bacteria and with patient’s consent.