In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Cold War Studies 5.3 (2003) 157-158

[Access article in PDF]
Nikolai Krementsov, The Cure: A Story of Cancer and Politics from the Annals of the Cold War. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. xvii + 261 pp. $26.00.

This is a fascinating book that can be read in two ways. In one sense it is the story of a couple, two Soviet biomedical scientists, Grigorii Roskin and Nina Klyueva, their dedication to each other, and their obsessive search for a cure to that still elusive and devastating condition, cancer. Their lives spanned the Russian Revolution, the Russian Civil War, the New Economic Policy, the rise of Josif Stalin, the Great Terror, the Second World War, and the Cold War. At another level the book is a story of the early Cold War itself, which provides a crucial backdrop for the climactic events of the book. The book affords rare insight into the complexities of Communist Party control of scientific research, as well as the strategic role that was assigned to the scientific establishment.

When Soviet officials concluded that Roskin and Klyueva were within reach of a putative "cure" for cancer, they provided large financial and human resources but required that all the work be kept secret. The secrecy greatly hindered the scientists by restricting their contacts with other scientists at home and ruling out such contacts with foreign researchers. Because science is, in essence, universal and is nourished through the free exchange of ideas and research results, the imposition of pervasive secrecy is bound to be detrimental.

The book is presented in the form of a play, and the chapters are labeled acts. Roskin and his lifetime partner, Klyueva, had speculated that cancerous tumors could be tamed and perhaps eliminated, not by chemical or physical means (radiation or surgery) but by biotherapy, particularly the use of the Trypanosoma cruzi toxin, which causes Chagas' disease. They posited that the toxin would affect cancer directly or stimulate the immune system to fight cancerous tumors. Experiments with tumors in mice lent some support to their hypothesis. The premature announcement in 1946 that Soviet scientists had found a "cure" for cancer caused a worldwide frenzy and placed the scientists in an onerous situation. At that point the testing of the toxin was still only at the experimental stage, and problems with its stability and durability had been cropping up.

Americans were particularly interested in the announcement, and the U.S. embassy in Moscow was deluged with communications asking for more details about the curing agent (which was dubbed "KR" after the researchers' surnames). But soon, against the backdrop of Cold War tensions, the eagerness of Americans to learn more about the alleged "cure" aroused suspicion on the part of the Soviet authorities, who claimed that Americans were trying to steal the secret. These suspicions were in part the outgrowth of a notorious ideological campaign launched shortly after World WarII, claiming that most major inventions (the radio, the airplane, etc.) had been discovered by Russians but that the credit had been stolen by the West.

The story became even more complicated when Roskin and Klyueva received permission from a series of state agencies to make available a copy of their manuscript, [End Page 157] "The Biotherapy of Malignant Tumors," to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (after the chapter on the manufacture of KR had been removed). The academic secretary of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences brought the manuscript with him while on a trip to the United States—a trip approved by the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Health, and the leading organs of the Communist Party—but he subsequently was accused of being an American spy and sent to the gulag. Klyueva and Roskin themselves were tried in a "Court of Honor" on charges of being unpatriotic and servile to the enemy and were subjected to a reprimand. Nonetheless, they were permitted to continue their research and were given a new building and generous funding. Later...