Rounds of the targeted therapy, along with doses of radiation to his brain, where he has also developed small tumors, have mostly kept Wigbels's cancer in check since. This summer, he also enrolled in a trial of a second experimental drug targeted to ALK mutations that is designed to cross the blood-brain barrier. Having started a foundation called Take Aim at Cancer to fund research into targeted therapies, he describes his philosophy this way: "The Wigbels belief is that you've got to be as close as you can to research."
Attacking the seeds. Given cancer's deadly urge to spread, one of the most exciting research paths of the future takes on stem cells within tumors, which are thought to be very rare but uniquely able to renew themselves, drive tumor formation, and perhaps sneakily travel to distant locations. Evidence of stem cells has now been found in a number of cancers, including those of the blood, brain, breast, colon, and prostate. If doctors could wipe out or hobble these cells, they might be able to eliminate recurrences and improve response to treatment, because the cells are also thought to be responsible for tumors' resistance to chemotherapy.
In May, a team based at McMaster University in Ontario showed that an antipsychotic drug called thioridazine specifically killed leukemic cancer stem cells in the lab, while sparing healthy cells. And in June, a researcher from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid showed that the diabetes drug metformin killed pancreatic cancer stem cells, and—when combined with chemotherapy—killed mature cancer cells as well. Neither of these therapies has been shown to work on cancer stem cells in animals or humans. But the results are raising researchers' interest in moving them onto the ever-growing list of promising trials.