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December 9, 2009
Sanjay Gupta operates on Mondays and sees patients on Wednesdays. The rest of the week, he leads CNN's medical coverage. Gupta has to be the first (one hopes the last) news reporter to perform brain surgery while on the job in a war zone. He enjoys his weekly responsibilities so much that he turned down President Obama's offer of the surgeon general's position. Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles That Are Saving Lives Against All Odds, Gupta's second book, takes a fresh, hard look at assumptions that doctors have accepted for decades: CPR works. You're dead when your heart stops. If your brain looks like mush and the top doctors at a top medical center say you're brain-dead, there's no possibility of coming back. I asked Gupta how the compelling stories he presents should change our ideas about modern medicine and what they might mean for healthcare reform.
Cheating Death and its accompanying CNN specials air some of medicine's basic deficiencies (like how we define death). What's your aim?
I've been thinking about this book since I was a medical student. The way that we pronounce people "dead" and the whole process of death is something that we know more about now than we have ever before. It's not a perfect system. I take some of these concepts that are usually more squarely in the realm of science and the journals and try to make them more approachable for a lay audience. I'm not trying to be controversial or to raise debates.
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December 4, 2009
Women were the beneficiaries of the first cancer vaccine―Gardasil, approved in 2006 to prevent cervical cancer. Several weeks ago, the same drug was made available to young males to prevent genital warts. And now it looks as if the first vaccine approved to fight cancer, by enhancing the body's immune response to cancer cells, will benefit males. Last month the Food and Drug Administration committed to deciding the fate of the prostate cancer vaccine Provenge by May 1, 2010. Prostate cancer is an appealing target because it moves slowly (even men whose cancer comes back after prostate surgery often live for well over a decade). That wide window of opportunity gives a vaccine time to prompt the immune system into fighting the body's own cells when they've become cancerous. (The immune system routinely fends off some tumors on its own, generally tiny cancers that are never detected, much less diagnosed.)
But while Provenge is on track to enter the market first, a less-sexy vaccine that hasn't caught the eye of biotech investors could work just as well at a much lower cost.