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In 1928, when Alexander Fleming returned home from holiday, he found his lab in a state of disarray. Tools crowded his desk. Petri dishes were stacked on top of one another. Fleming was not the most organized researcher, and this would prove to be lifesaving. He noticed that mold had colonized his bacterial culture and killed it. He had just discovered penicillin. In response to the finding, Fleming simply remarked: “That’s funny.”
Dr. Carl June, the oncologist whose quest to cure cancer fuels Ross Kauffman’s fascinating Tribeca documentary Of Medicine and Miracles, shares Fleming’s amusingly casual wonder at happenstance. When June retells the story of Fleming’s discovery, he sees it as a lesson: “Chance favors the prepared,” he said. “If you do enough experiments, you’ll find things in the unexpected.” About his efforts to reprogram T-cells to fight cancerous masses, he speaks with quiet determination. There is passion and admiration for the process. Confidence and humility about the results. These, I suspect, are the qualities of a tenacious researcher, but they also make June a fascinating doc subject.
Of Medicine and Miracles
The Bottom Line
Tugs on the heartstrings and opens the mind.
June isn’t the only subject of this film, though. Kauffman, known for his Oscar-winning documentary feature Born into Brothels, weaves the scientific genius’ story with that of Emily Whitehead, a cancer patient desperate for solutions. Whitehead and her parents — Tom and Kari — made headlines in 2012 after June’s experimental treatment removed any trace of leukemia from her body. For those who followed the story closely, the doc won’t offer much in the way of surprises, but for the
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