Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Cancer Frontier, One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution

The book is about the author's cancer research, his experiments to understand the miraculous impact of treatments on some  but not all individuals, and his journey to build a prominent centre, The Sloan Kittering Cancer Institute, dedicated to this  cause.

It's humbling to read the admittance that "no two cancers" are the same, even there are many differences amongst the signature of the same clinical types, colon and/or breast.  That identifying these abnormal patterns that kill, from the normal is challenging due to the slim delta in difference between them.

"Developing anticancer drugs is not like shooting at a fixed target;" because in the root of the battle lies an intelligent group of genes which communicate and coordinate their growth activity.

"Consider the successful drug Herceptin," the author remarks. "For years we were not sure why it worked only some cases.  Researchers finally discovered that the drug blocked a specific cellular signalling mechanism, or "receptor", that simulated breast cancer cell growth, but only 35 percent of women with breast cancer have that particular receptor."

There are numerous non-approved and experimental drugs touting the cure. These are often a by product of an unexpected result in a lab experiments which didn't repeat when tried on humans.  One of the more commonly known of such drug is DMSO.  When added to the mice cells which where colourless due to cancer, DMSO turned them red.  The red cells were identified as haemoglobin.  "DMSO had, in effect, switched on a genetic function in the leukimic mice blood cells that the disease had switched off."  This fascinating accident didn't repeat on the malignant blood cells of humans.

Unlike what we make or want to believe, "conquering cancer" is not within reach; we should accept that. Despite some progress, we are far from finding the "cure".  All we have is knowledge based on experiments, surveys, and statistics that perhaps help us to determine the survivor rate.  And potent drugs to alleviate the cancer pain and provide "comfort".

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