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The whole point of the game-changing cancer immunotherapies is to get armadas of T cells sailing into battle against tumors. But for some patients there’s a fundamental problem: Their T cells aren’t armed — or, in bio-speak, “activated,” a big reason why many patients aren’t helped by much-hyped new therapies.

If a new technique reported on Monday works in people as well as it does in lab mice, however, physicians will be able to tell almost immediately if a patient’s immune system is armed and, if it’s not, quickly switch therapies, increase dosages, or just spare patients often-serious side effects.

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