It was a normal day, or so it seemed. Actually, nothing in 2030 seemed normal, not to Brad Miller anyway. Brad was surprised at how many people showed up for his eightieth birthday. Surprised because he had these friends in the first place and surprised at how healthy they all were. This was not what people in their eighties were supposed to look like. Sure, the lifts helped, along with the tucks and the hair and the new weight-loss drug, which, while only seven years on the market, had become the biggest-selling drug in the history of the world. That's what happens when a chemical works almost one hundred percent of the time, in everyone. But still, Brad thought, these folks look good.
And they did. They were thin, healthy, all looking better than their parents were at forty. The only thing missing were younger people. Brad couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a young person at his birthday. Other than his son, whom he never talked to anyway, he didn't even know anyone under fifty. Nor did any of his friends. There was just too much resentment and too much fear.
As the lights dimmed, the customary "life" movie played in the middle of the room, holographic style. People were getting tired of these. It was one thing to watch home movies of someone else; it was another to feel like you were in them. It was like boredom squared. But people watched; they laughed and told Brad how much fun it was to see him "age." He, like many of them, actually looked better now than he had ten years ago. But it was funny. Where once that was a compliment relating to how you lived your life, whether you ate well or exercised enough or got a good night's sleep, now it was just about what you could afford. And once cancer had been cured, the youth business went crazy.
Most people in that room were only in their twenties when Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer. Like all the wars going on at the time, this one seemed to have little success. The progress was so slow. Still, people held out hope that when they got older there would be a cure for what ailed them. But when the year 2000 rolled in, there they were: bald, fat, and ugly. And there was still cancer.
But everyone in that room, probably everyone in the world, remembered where they were when they heard the news. Oh, there had been so many hopeful stories over the years. So many false starts. So many mice that were cured, but when the human trials started, people dropped dead of all kinds of things that had never bothered a mouse. But then it happened. And like all of the greatest discoveries, from Newton to Einstein, Dr. Sam Mueller's cure was so exquisitely simple.
* * *
Dr. Mueller was no genius. He grew up fairly normal, in Addison, Illinois. A big night out was going to Chicago for pizza. After graduating Rush Medical College, Sam Mueller interned at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center and then, realizing that making a living as an internist was going to be tough at best, he started looking elsewhere. He thought of concierge medicine, which was all the rage, but decided to take a fairly lucrative position at Pfizer. He figured he would do that for a while and then something would unfold. Oh my, did it unfold.
Mueller had always been interested in the immune system. So much in medicine was pointing to the body's own defenses as a cure-all, but the success rates were modest at best. He was assigned various projects at Pfizer. Some were interesting, some he hated. He never understood the Viagra-for-women thing. Every woman he ever knew could go all night, have a bowl of cereal, and go for another afternoon, but he worked on it anyway, and when it happened it was huge.
The team got big-time bonuses and raises and all kinds of rewards. They were even sent to Hawaii, where Sam Mueller met his wife. She wasn't Hawaiian, she was an assistant on the project whom he had never really gotten to know, but then one night on Kauai they both got drunk, walked on the beach, watched the most beautiful sunset in the world, and fell madly in love.
Maggie was a great companion for Sam. Smart, easygoing, and very supportive. He could talk to her about his ideas and she would not only listen but also encourage him. The idea she liked most was an interesting one. Something about using a person's own blood to attack cancer cells. Sam was convinced that if a person's blood was combined with someone else's blood that wasn't compatible, if the combination of the two was just right, one person's blood cells would fight not only the other blood cells but the foreign bodies in their system as well, including the cancer. But the real break came when Pfizer merged with a Swiss firm and Sam was let go. Thank God he never told anyone there about what he was working on or they would have owned it.
With Maggie's help, Sam Mueller raised three hundred thousand dollars, took on a partner, and started Immunicate. His blood idea was in the right direction but it didn't work properly; it knocked out cancer cells but attacked the other organs, too, and the body's immune system went into overdrive, killing everything. Something had to be done to make the blood combination work against the disease without working against the rest of the body. The answer turned out to be common amino acids.
Sam and his partner, Ben Wasser, spent an entire year injecting the blood with different aminos. With the help of computers they tried millions of combinations. There were so many months where they felt it was not going to work. And then on the night of June 30, 2014, they put together alanine, isoleucine, proline, and tryptophan. Four common amino acids that had never been combined before, certainly not in this precise measurement.
Two years later, over ninety-four percent of the participants in the human trials were cancer-free. There were still rare cancers that did not respond, but all the big ones were knocked out, and the success was so overwhelming that trials were stopped early and the drug was available to the general population by the spring of 2016.
Copyright © 2011 by Albert Brooks