Coley’s Cancer-Killing Concoction


Dr. William Coley (1862–1936) was an American bone surgeon and cancer researcher, pioneer of cancer immunotherapy. He developed a treatment based on provoking an immune response to bacteria.


Coley’s discovery, as it turns out, was actually a re-discovery. The idea of a link between acute infection and the resolution of tumours was not new, and the phenomenon of infection-related "spontaneous regression" of cancer has been documented throughout history. A 13th century Italian saint was reputed to have his tumour-afflicted leg miraculously healed shortly after the malignant growth burst through the skin and became infected. Crude cancer immunotherapies working along similar lines to Coley’s early experiments were known in the 18th and 19th centuries, and may extend back to the time of the pharaohs. Ancient writings suggest that the renowned Egyptian physician Imhotep may have used a similar infect-and-incise method to treat tumours.

But Coley took those first important steps in dragging this old remedy into the twentieth century. After the fatalities with the ‘live’ version of his therapy, he developed an improved fluid containing killed bacteria of two different strains, Streptococcus pyogenes and Serratia marcescens. This was based on the idea that the dead bacteria would still have the immune-stimulating capability of their living brethren (in the form of purported ‘toxins’), but not share their inconvenient tendency to cause death. His invention became variously known as ‘Coley’s Toxins’, ‘Coley’s Vaccine’, ‘Mixed Bacterial Toxins’ or ‘Coley Fluid.’


Due partly to the fact that the treatment mechanism isn't fully understood and the development of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, Coley’s Toxins is rarely used in the treatment of cancer thereafter.

The idea here is the body’s own defence and repair network can/may make a real difference in the battle against cancer.


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