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Episode One
Available March 30, 2015

Magic Bullets

The search for a “cure” for cancer is the greatest epic in the history of science. It spans centuries and continents, and is full of its share of heroes, villains and sudden vertiginous twists. This episode follows that centuries-long search, but centers on the story of Sidney Farber, who, defying conventional wisdom in the late 1940s, introduces the modern era of chemotherapy, eventually galvanizing a full-scale national “war on cancer.” Interwoven with Farber’s narrative are the contemporary stories of two very brave young patients.

Olivia's Story

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About Olivia

At the John Hopkins Hospital Cancer Center, 17 month old Olivia Blair is treated for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Olivia’s parents began noticing a pattern of sickness and high fevers. Her pediatrician immediately referred her to the center where they performed a number of tests, including a spinal fluid test, to determine if there were Leukemia cells in her bones. Immediate chemotherapy treatment was necessary to limit the spread of the cancer cells.

Sydney Farber

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About Sydney Farber

Sidney Farber was born in Buffalo, New York in 1903 to Jewish parents, as one of 14 children. He studied biology and philosophy in college, graduating from the University of Buffalo in 1923. Farber studied in Germany and completed graduate work at Harvard. After arriving at Harvard, Farber completed his advanced pathology training in the late 1920’s.

The NIH summarized Farber’s medical accomplishments as follows: “Farber was a world-renowned pediatric pathologist, made major contributions to his field but is acknowledged as the father of the modern era of chemotherapy. He recognized that folic acid stimulated leukaemic cell growth and enhanced disease progression. He hypothesized that folic acid antagonists would inhibit or arrest the proliferation of cancer cells. His landmark study, published in 1948, demonstrated that a number of folic acid antagonists, including 4-aminopteroyl-glutamic acid (aminopterin) produced temporary remissions in children with acute undifferentiated leukemia. These observations lead to the development and use of other chemotherapeutic agents, either singly or, more effectively, in combination for treating childhood and adult malignancies…Under his guidance and leadership, both the ‘Jimmy Fund’, one of the first comprehensive pediatric oncology treatment centres, and the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation, which later became the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, were founded.”*

*Source as follows:

Luca's Story

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About Luca

Luca Assante, diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma at the age of 2, underwent high doses of chemotherapy due to a tumor that was resistant to treatment. Due in part to such high levels of treatment, Luca was susceptible to developing a second type of cancer. Luca spent 2.5 years in remission but, during a routine followup appointment, blood tests revealed that Luca had developed Leukemia. Luca’s leukemia was likely a result of his earlier treatment. His only option for recovery would be through a bone marrow transplant from his sister.

Mary Lasker

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About Mary Lasker

Born Mary Woodard, Mary Lasker was from Wisconsin, child to a small-town banker and a saleswoman. She graduated from Radcliffe College with an aptitude for business and by the 1940s she had a very successful business creating paper dress patterns. Inspired by a number of influential personal experiences, Mary directed her considerable talents toward transforming the nation’s attitude about disease, treatment and the resources devoted to research. In 1942, Mary and her husband Albert created the Lasker Foundation for the promotion of medical science and research. Mary was among the first to use her power as a wealthy socialite to harness advertising for the promotion of curing cancer. It would be a very personal fight for Mary, as Albert Lasker was a lead executive in the Lucky Strike campaign and was later diagnosed with and would die from cancer.

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Episode One

"Magic Bullets"

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