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Between Bench and Bedside

Between Bench and Bedside

Science, Healing, and Interleukin-2 in a Cancer Ward

Ilana Löwy

ISBN 9780674068094

Publication date: 01/01/1997

In 1985 the media announced a new therapy for cancer. It was expensive, labor-intensive, and toxic--but, they said, it worked. How it worked is the story Ilana Löwy tells in Between Bench and Bedside, a compelling account of the clinical trials of interleukin-2 at a major French cancer hospital. Her book offers a remarkable insider's view of the culture of clinical experimentation in oncology--and of how this culture affects the development of new treatments for cancer.

Löwy, a historian of science who trained as an immunologist, makes the life of the laboratory and the hospital comprehensible and immediate. Before immersing us in the clinical drama, she fills in the history behind the action--a background of chemotherapy and radiation, controlled clinical trials, and the long line of immunological approaches that finally led to interleukin-2. The story then shifts to the introduction of interleukin-2 in a cancer ward. Löwy conveys the clinical investigation as a complex, multilayered phenomenon that defies the stereotypes of modern biomedicine. In this picture, the miracle-makers and arrogant, self-centered professionals of myth give way to moving images of real people negotiating the tensions between institutional and professional constraints, the search for a scientific breakthrough, and the obligation to alleviate the suffering of a patient. The result is a rare firsthand look at the multiple factors that shape real-life clinical experiments and the institutional tangle and emotional muddle that surround such trials--an invaluable view at a time when medicine is undergoing such great and confusing changes.


  • [F]uture historians of medicine will...have to rely on reports from emissaries to the cancer wards of the 1990s. Between Bench and Bedside is an important contribution to that literature...[Löwy's] account includes a clear description of the underlying science--which, being immunological, is very complicated. But she is mainly concerned with the way doctors, scientists and patients coped with the gradual realization that interleukin-2 is not all they had hoped it to be.

    —John Cairns, Nature


  • Ilana Löwy is Senior Researcher, INSERM (U158), Hôpital Necker-Enfants Malades, Paris.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press