When Cancer is Just the Beginning

Mary Slattery at her home in New Jersey.
Dustin Fenstermacher / wonderful machine

Rarely, the body reacts to cancer by generating immune cells that chew their way into the brain. Could research with this handful of patients create a new therapeutic cancer vaccine?

By Julia C. Mead • Photography by Dustin Fenstermacher

Article Extras

1 But the antibody in Slattery's spinal fluid signified something more sinister: An immune response to her cancer, theoretically arrested more than a year earlier, was so ferocious that it had chewed through the blood-brain barrier and into her cerebellum. Specifically, it had gnawed on Purkinje neurons that, like ovarian tumor cells, also express cdr2. Slattery had paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration.

PCD is one of about a dozen paraneoplastic neurologic disorders (PNDs).2 Some, including PCD, are defined by an immune response to a malignancy that remains at a distance from...

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