Larry A. Law
Saving half of his patients diagnosed with cancer far surpassed anything modern cancer treatments could offer them. Coley’s approach was used by many doctors including the renowned Mayo brothers from the Mayo Clinic. The famous orthopedic surgeon Henry W. Meyerding used this approach with great success treating bone cancer. From the perspective of current immune system knowledge, scientists can now understand the immense success he was having with patients experiencing spontaneous remission of their cancer. One of the white blood cells charged with immune system defense is called a macrophage. One of the macrophage’s functions is the prevention of cancer. The importance of dietary polysaccharides that end up covering the cell membrane of the macrophage and allow the macrophage to engage cancer cells has only become understood in the last decade. So, with all the success—how come no one seems to know about this treatment today?
There are several reasons to explain why this treatment approach was relegated to the history books. Coley’s work came out at the same time radiation therapy was being developed. X-rays were discovered in 1895 and were used to treat cancer in 1896. A few years later, Becquerel rays of radium became the chosen approach to cancer. Radiation had the backing of powerful proponents. Coley’s boss at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City was a big believer in radiation. James Ewing had received a huge financial gift from James Douglas, a wealthy mining industrialist and advocate of radium. By the 1920s, Memorial Hospital was known as the radium hospital, having acquired 8 grams of radium, including the original batch produced by Marie Curie.
In 1955, another influential leader at Memorial Hospital, Cornelius Rhoads, ordered the production of Coley’s toxin stopped even though patients were receiving treatment. Rhoads had pushed chemotherapy since the late 1940s and saw chemo as the future of cancer warfare. He oversaw a massive screening program at Sloan Kettering focused on finding the magic bullet—a chemical compound that would end all cancer. He dismissed any other approach. Because Coley could not explain how his bacterial toxin therapy worked and because high, patient fevers (which was a necessary part of the healing process) seemed so disconcerting to the medical establishment, his approach was shut down. A plausible explanation of why his approach worked would not be forthcoming until an understanding of cell biology and immune system function matured and the science of glycobiology emerged. By then it would be much too late to alter the direction of cancer research.
The final reason why most of us have never heard of Coley’s toxin occurred in 1963. Because of drug safety issues raised by thalidomide in Europe, Congress had passed the Drug Efficacy Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1962. Thalidomide was a drug targeting morning sickness in pregnant mothers, but its use resulted in serious birth defects like malformed limbs. The outrage over thalidomide resulted in an amendment which required drug manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of new drugs before they could be approved by the FDA. Drugs that had been used for a long time, like aspirin, were grandfathered in and avoided testing.
Even though Coley’s toxin had been used for over 60 years, the FDA classified it as a “new” drug. So, anyone today who wants to try to replicate Coley’s approach must first apply to the FDA for permission. The process is time-consuming and costly enough that few are interested in resurrecting it. Just the cost of preparing a batch of Coley’s toxin runs at well over $1.2 million. An interesting study in Germany recently demonstrated that Coley’s toxin, now referred to as a mixed bacterial vaccine (MBV), helped cure advanced-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma. MBV resulted in an astounding 93 percent remission rate compared to chemotherapy's dismal remission rate of only 29 percent.
Glycobiology Answers How Coley's Toxin Worked
Despite all of the problems preventing Coley’s toxin from being widely utilized today in cancer treatment therapies, we now have a foundation for understanding what the active component was in his bacterial broth.
In his book, The Science of Aloe, Dr. Bill McAnalley stated, “Evidence from the studies of structure and function of bacteria suggests that the lipopolysaccharide compound found on Gram-negative bacteria is able to induce macrophage activation. Upon further investigation, it was found that the polysaccharide portion of LPS was solely responsible for the activation process. Moreover, natural polysaccharide components, like acemannan, are able to mimic this mechanism to stimulate macrophages. These activated macrophages produce a variety of compounds like Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF-alpha) to destroy organisms or cells that express specific saccharides on their surface.”
Acemannan is a product that consists of mannose which has been extracted and stabilized from the aloe vera plant. LPS stands for liposaccharides or lipoglycans which are large molecules consisting of a lipid (fatty acid) and a polysaccharide (sugar). They are called glycolipids as opposed to glycoproteins since their base is a fat (a lipid). They are found on the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria and elicit a strong immune response in animals and humans.
The reason mannose in aloe vera stimulates the immune system to engage in repair, healing and cell destruction so quickly is because the human immune system is primed to look for mannose on the outside, surface-lectins (glycoproteins) of bacteria. The human immune system is engineered and designed with an early-warning detection system. It is built to look for incoming problems associated with bacteria. The sugar mannose is used in the body to signal that there is something requiring serious attention. Mannose is the terminal sugar on Gram-negative bacteria. The macrophages become activated and go on alert to take out anything foreign entering the body.
Bill McAnalley explained, “Injection of immunomodulatory compounds like LPS or acemannan into a tumor induces this tumoricidal (tumor suicide) effect. Acemannan can play a dual role in this activity. First, cancer cells require more nutrition and energy in order to grow and divide at such a quick pace. This can lead to a higher level of incorporation of mannose into glycoproteins expressed on the cell surface. Transformed (i.e. cancerous) cells are still able to convey information about their health status with these surface-expressed glycoproteins. Studies have demonstrated that certain cancers express very unique glycoproteins, which are not present anywhere else in the body, and for all [intents] and purposes are “abnormal” to the body. Immune cells, like macrophages, or other innate immune components like MBL (mannose binding lectin), recognize these “abnormal” cells.”
The Importance of Mannose
When bacteria enter the body they stimulate the immune system to fight. Free-floating mannose is able to do the same thing by interacting with glycoproteins and macrophages. This induces a significant immune response also, but without the negative side effect of inflammation which bacteria would cause. This is a huge benefit--no toxicity and no adverse side effects are good things! The resting immune system is activated and goes on alert. Specific glycoproteins like Toll-Like Receptor (TLR-4) and Cluster of Differentiation (CD14) are engaged; these then stimulate the production of Nuclear Factor-kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-Kβ). NF-Kβ is a mouthful. It is a key protein controlling transcription of DNA and production of cytokine chemicals and reactive species responsible for tumor necrosis and apoptosis initiation. This is critical for stopping cancer (cancer regression).
The Power of Nature
We now know that Coley was on to something huge over one hundred years ago. He just couldn’t explain it. Aloe has been around for thousands of years and no one could explain it either. Today, we are able to discern the metabolic pathways and biological processes involved. They all point to the power of natural, plant-based sources. The solutions have been here all along.
Currently, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the only cancer treatment modalities recognized by the medical community. Unfortunately, other natural and less invasive treatments are discounted and considered alternative medicine, when in actuality they have been the long-term, traditional approach. They are not alternative medicine. Western medicine is really the new kid on the block. It would be more accurate to say modern medicine is the alternative approach. The Father of Medicine said it very well a long time ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”—Hippocrates (460 B.C.).
For information on the power of good sugars (nutritional glycobiology) on cancer, see my book.