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Curve Breakers

Some cancer patients outlive their initial, sometimes grim, prognoses, and researchers at Harvard Medical School are investigating why, NPR's Shots blog reports.

These patients' responses' to treatment is "so different, so outlying from any other clinical experience," Harvard's Zak Kohane tells NPR. "It's a dramatic signal. So we know there's something there — but what is it?" There are numerous theories as to why, he adds, ranging from something hidden in their genomes to a quirk of their immune systems to their diet or medication history.

As part of the Network of Enigmatic Exceptional Responders, he and his colleagues will be collecting all the data they can — patient DNA, tumor DNA, medical record data, ZIP code, water and air pollution levels, and more — to puzzle it out. NPR adds that the network is reaching out to patients to create a national network of exceptional responders and is working with pharmaceutical companies to enroll their own patients.

Vinay Prasad, an oncologist at the Oregon Health and Science University, tells NPR that a lot can be learned in science from studying the extremes. "But I think you should look at both extremes — the people we don't do a good enough job for — and I'll tell you, as an oncologist, I think they're very easily forgotten," he says.

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