THE BLOG
07/30/2015 02:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Melanoma Cancer vs. The California Stem Cell Program: Disease-a-week Challenge #10

In the classic movie GOLDFINGER, James Bond is tied on his back to a table, while a buzzing crackling laser beam is just about to saw him in half. Bond struggles helplessly, then calls out to the villain: "Do you expect me to talk?

And Auric Goldfinger answers, "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die."

Naturally our hero talks his way out of the situation. Movie villains seem to need to brag and show off before the one man on Earth who can spoil their plans. Bond is released, the world is saved, and the franchise goes on.

But in that instant there was a distinct chill, as though Death had entered the room.

Once, cancer diagnosis was a threat from which there was no escape. But today, with early action and encouraging research, we do have a chance.

Quick quiz: do you know the ABCDE's of skin cancer?

"Asymmetry--one half of it is different than the other; Border irregularities--the edges are ragged; Color differences--varying shades of tan, brown or black; Diameter--bigger than a pencil eraser; Evolving--the mole noticeably changes".

What should you do, if you get a mole on your skin and it has any of the above?

Hint: take it to the doctor.*

The outcome could be happy.

The doctor might look at the mole on your cheek and say: "Take this off?" You say, "Yup," and half an hour later, it's gone, the cancer scooped cleanly from the flesh. The skin is numbed, you stay awake through the surgery, wear a bandage for a couple days, show off the scar to your friends. Handled appropriately, it is no big deal.

But if you wait too long?

A deadly skin cancer called melanoma can spread: traveling through the blood or lymph system, invading liver, lungs, intestines, brain, or eyes.

"World-wide, more than 160,000 new cases of the skin cancer melanoma are diagnosed each year. The vast majority are caught early enough that they can be cured by surgery. But when this tumor spreads... it becomes highly resistant to most current therapies..."

At that point, even surgery, chemo, radiation and hormones may not help.

"It usually causes death within one to two years, and only 10-15% of patients survive five years."

We need a way to fight this silent killer.

Drs. Robert Dillman and Hans Keirstead are part of the senior leadership of a company called Caladrius (previously NeoStem). Their company's odd name, Caladrius, comes from a mythological Roman bird. According to legend, the caladrius could fly into the house of a dying person, absorb his or her sickness, and fly away with it, leaving the sufferer well.

Keirstead is a stem cell specialist par excellence;

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Dillman is a cancer immunotherapy expert. Joining their skills, they may have built something that will change the world.

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The California stem cell program recently awarded the pair a $17.7 million grant, to help support a Phase 3 clinical trial, the first time this has been done in the program's history.

The patients involved face imminent death; they have stage 4 cancer.

The Phase 3 trials are for efficacy: the medicine given might cure the patients.

There had already been two Phase 2 trials with the same medication--and it saved lives. Of 72 patients treated with this, 51% survived at least five years-- compared with only 32% for 71 treated with another promising vaccine. In other words, for those taking the medication the odds of surviving were greater than 2-1. Without the medication, it was the other way around; you were twice as likely not to live.
--Interview, Keirstead and Dillman

How does this patient-centered therapy work? First, a piece of tissue containing cancer cells is surgically removed, and a tumor stem cell line is established. The cells are then treated with radiation so they can no longer divide, before being mixed with the patient's own immune cells and a growth factor. This vaccine then works with the patient's immune system to battle the cancer.

This "super soup" is injected under the skin once a week for three weeks, and then once a month for five months.

Could it work? Here is what the therapy meant to one patient: Norm Beegun.

"Prior to receiving the vaccine, the patient had experienced multiple metastases, distantly spread to the lung, the bowel, and the liver."--personal communication, Robert Dillman.

He had tried therapy after therapy, but the cancer always came back.

But after the new methodology was administered?

"Unlike the other therapies he had tried, this one had no side effects, no discomfort, no pain or problems. All it did was get rid of the cancer. (emphasis added--DR) Regular scans since then have shown no sign that the melanoma has returned."

If such amazing results continue, this stem cell therapy may be the way to defeat not only melanoma, but also tumors of the liver, ovary, and much more.

Cancer should be an inconvenience, not a death sentence.

For more information, visit the NIH clinical trial site:

*Take all cancer questions to the doctor, without delay. We want you safe.

Don C. Reed is the author of the forthcoming book, STEM CELL BATTLES: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease.