Scientists cure cancer

Your no X allowed are getting boring.

The article itself is a piece of garbage written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Conspiracy theories aren’t worth the paper they’re written on or the breath it takes to communicate them to someone else. There have been countless like this one for over 100 years and there will be many more.

That being said, a friend actually had given me this link earlier today and the data that is referred to is real, though greatly exagerated by the article. A lot more work is required to validate the observation, better understand what is happening and evaluate the translatability of the compound to humans. For example, something this article doesn’t mention is that another study published on the same compound demonstrated that it could protect cancer, not kill it. The problem with the lay media is that it isn’t capable of properly evaluating the complexity and merits of these kinds of issues. When it comes to diseases like cancer and MS, people get excited very easily, they lose objectivity and make poor decisions. Occasionally, this will cost lives and millions of dollars to society, as is happening with Paolo Zamboni right now with liberation therapy, as happened with Luigi Dibella many years before with cancer and countless other times with countless other frauds.

My own PhD was about the creation and characterization of a different compound I patented and that we’re hoping to bring to clinical trials one day. To make a long story short, it is very complicated and time consuming to do this rigorously.


Hey Sin, how about making this thread about that guy who supposedly got cured from AIDS after receiving a bone marrow transplant?

The thing with the bone marrow transplant has been known for years. It was originally an accidental finding when a bone marrow transplant was performed on an AIDS patient who had developed leukemia. At the time, the donor marrow wasn’t anticipated to have had this side effect so people were quite surprised the patient’s HIV infection seemed to recover. This is analogous to how a group of prostitutes in Kenya was found to be immune to HIV because they carried the same mutation that made conventional HIV incapable of infecting lymphocytes. Since then, many people were found to accidentally also carry the mutation, but its overall pretty rare.

There is currently a company called Sangamo that developed a way to genetically engineer cells to knock down the receptor in question and successfully cured the animals of HIV. The biggest limitation for the administration of bone marrow transplants are the health risks associated to doing it (they are severe). Should Sangamo’s technology come to the markets, it would address some of the health risks, like with graft vs host disease, but it would add on cost. You’re not going to see African rural hospitals offer this service. African countries don’t have the money, the know-how or the facilities to do this, especially not as charity for 40 million people.

There was an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 that I read that had a similar effect to the HIV resistance transplant, except it was with sickle cell anemia. Out of about 200 prospective patients, they only selected 10 people due to issues with immunocompatability, health status, etc. Even then there are all the issues of bone marrow suppression and increased infection risks that come with any transplant.

Now, these people are sick and have sickle cell anemia from a relatively rare genetic condition, and they’re receiving bone marrow transplants from close relatives who are healthy. The HIV resistance comes from a normal person who was infected with HIV receiving a transplant from a person with a rare trait (most of them are of Northern European descent). That means even with a good positive donor:recipient likelihood like in the sickle cell case, it was damn hard to get a transplant that would work even in theory. With the HIV case the donors are rare and hard to find, and on top of that you have to worry about immunocompatability as well.

The Del32 mutation has been known for years. That’s partially how CCR5-dependent (the immune cell receptor they were talking about) viral entry inhibitors were made.

Truly expected a goatse from clicking on this thread.

But seriously though, can you guys explain to a double major in two useless fields of sociology and geography who sold his soul for business what’s up these days with cancer research and where this stuff is going? I listened to something on NPR over the weekend about viruses eating cancerous cells or something? i thought that was pretty cool.

Cancer research is always kind of a steady, slow process. There will never be a “cure for cancer” in the same way that there will never be a “solution for things breaking down” because that’s just what cancer is - your cellular control mechanisms breaking down. A lot of this depends on basic molecular cell and biochem research which depends a lot on public funding for science. In a lot of ways, I think the country where you hang out to hit on your QQ honeys has a better attitude than the United States on this subject - they’ve been spending a ton of money on the field of bioinformatics recently.

Most people don’t really realize how far we’ve come in treating cancers, though, because people will always die from cancer, because once you cure a relatively benign cancer and let someone who would have died at the age of 35 live until the age of 80, a more malignant case of cancer might hit at age 80. Or maybe the cancer at 80 years of age isn’t any more malignant, but the old geriatric patient will be just that much weaker than a healthy 35 year old and not be able to fight off the cancer as well. The longer the life expectancy, the more cancer will be a cause of death, not because we’re getting worse at combating cancer (in fact, the opposite is true), but because people are living longer which inevitably increases your chances of getting some form of cancer. It’s like how heart disease was a pretty insignificant cause of death a couple of hundred years ago when people only aged to the age of 40, but now it’s pretty much the largest cause of death in any developed nation.

Compare deaths, though, from both types of lymphomas (Non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s) which have successful treatment rates of 80-95% compared to a hundred years ago when it was basically a pat on the back and some aspirin. Or skin cancers, which can now be detected by biopsy and removed before they can cause damage. People used to just “deal with it”, and it wasn’t pretty:

Klez is right that its extremely unlikely there will be a single cure for cancer because cancer is complicated. An organ is made of many different tissues, a tissue is made of many different kinds of cells and a cell can become cancerous in many ways.

Klez is wrong however that cancer has really progressed. In the past 100 years, sure. The past 30? No. Very little has changed in the past 30 years in terms of how patients are treated, with the rare exception of a subtype being found susceptible to a given therapy. A couple examples are Herceptin and Gleevec and the problem with new drugs is that the more specific the treatment is, while it will be more effective and have fewer side effects, the less applicable to other cancer types it becomes. This will in turn also make pharmas milk their small patient populations more as they need to recoup their investments.

The major advances that have been made in the past couple decades has been at a molecular classification level and this allows people to have a better understanding of what cancer subtypes are more susceptible to specific treatments. Even then, this understanding is patchy at best, with some cancers being well understood and others not and this is so recent that people are still trying to figure out how to make this applicable to the wider populace; its expensive and technically demanding to molecularly analyze a single cancer, so a lot of work is being done to make this practical at a large scale. And even THEN, we have yet to really see changes in how patients are treated in response to this molecular characterization. People have data, but it begs the question: so what?

Its pretty difficult to push the field ahead because its pretty insular. To use an example, Herceptin was laughed at originally because no one thought it was going to work. Now, everyone and their mother is rushing to make drugs like it. As things stand, we’ve pretty much plateau’d; new treatments are expected at best to improve survival in terms of months, not years, and if you’re lucky, have less side effects.

Currently, major areas of research include the investigation of receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors where key enzymes controlling cell fate and survival are inactivated. These are like Herceptin and Hleevec and there’s a new drug coming in the market that was discovered last year, if I recall correctly. It will be for a cancer subtype. So this discovery is sure to initiate a gold rush towards more drugs like it. Other people investigate the relationship between cancer and the host because cancer can’t grow without this interplay between the 2. Some people look at the structural tissues like fibroblasts, others, look at the relationship between cancer and the immune system. The immune system plays an indispensable role and the simple disruption of this relationship is enough to stop growth and spread. What I did and other people in my sub-field are doing is finding ways to not only break the link, but flip it around to make the immune system seek and destroy cancer across the body. I admit that I’m slightly biased, but I have a lot of reasons to believe that this is where we’re going to see the major breakthroughs in the future in terms of efficacy and also in applicability to the number of different cancers we can target.

Edit: a guy in my institute worked on oncolytic viruses and while the idea is cute, its not going anywhere.

You really don’t think of cancer research as having progressed significantly in the last 30 years? It’s more than just what new drugs are on the market - screening for BRCA1, BRCA2, p53, as well as MRI technology were all roughly discovered within the last 30 years which make tracking and preventive medicine much easier. Besides herceptin and imatinib, raloxifene, tretinoin/isotreinoin, as well as paclitaxel, just to name a few, were also discovered and approved in this time. The first anti-cancer vaccine for HBV was also developed. Sure, there’s now a shift towards prevention and screening rather than how to get the tumor out, but I think that’s the natural course of dealing with cancer that biochem research has taken us in, not necessarily that cancer research is slowing down.

When I say the field hasn’t progressed, what I really am talking about is that how people approach cancer has not changed in decades. The only thing that’s different with how patients are treated now vs 30 years ago is that nowadays, people just look for ways to combine drugs they already have to see if they’ll work better together. The ideas driving how patients are treated are only starting to change, which is why current therapies are pretty much all conceptually the same.Occasionally, people are lucky with combinations like R-CHOP, but this is the exception, not the rule. People just keep repeating the same thing over and over and over slightly differently hoping for a big difference. Your using Paclitaxel as an example serves my purposes because it was originally found in the 50s and brought to the clinics in the 80s, ie 30 years ago.

The end result is that there is no big difference and all progress is incremental and patchy. MDs have a fairly simplistic approach: they throw shit at the wall until something sticks; if you read everything I’ve mentioned, the only progress that’s been made in terms of improving survival have been on very specific cancer subtypes. Its fun to quote things like herceptin and gleevec and etc, but if you look at the big picture, targeting these subtypes is extremely expensive and barely makes a dent in the total survival rate.

If someone shows up with something like BRCA1/2, p53 or other mutations, there isn’t much more to tell them other than they got dealt a shitty set of cards and to proceed with having body parts removed to reduce their probability of getting cancer. Furthermore, the total contribution of people with genetic abnormalities to the total proportion of patients with cancer is in the single digit %. A fun question to ask anyone doing research is “so what?”. Very little of what’s known in the field is being applied or will ever be applied.

MRI technology is useful, but it doesn’t have any significant impact on survival. 1/3 of all women and 1/2 of all men eventually get cancer. The resources just aren’t there to screen everyone using this. What matters in terms of prognosis and how you’ll treat are the type of cancer, the stage and the grade. These are all pathological findings, not radiological.

The HPV vaccine is a big, recent development, but the mechanism of action isn’t translatable to other cancers. While a few cancers are caused by HPV infection, the total contribution to the total cancer patient pool is limited. We won’t see a dent in cervical cancer rates for 20 years and we certainly won’t see it in the US because idiot parents refuse to vaccinate their kids. Proportionally very few cancers are caused by HBV. Its a rare disease, not everyone gets the vaccine and not everyone who gets infected gets cancer. Liver cancer’s a bigger deal in Asia because of HDV.

To summarize my point, there are diminishing returns to how much money is put into the system vs how much gets out because people don’t think outside the box.

Do you think the patent system, and the lure of money, has discouraged creative risk-taking and encouraged safe, profitable mimicry of others’ ideas?

About thirty years ago, the Bayh Dole Act was passed, allowing public universities to patent and license their discoveries. Proponents claim that the licensing fees universities take in has allowed a massive increase in university research funding. Critics claim it has discouraged research in the fundamentals, which is rarely rewarding in the short-term and too broad to be patentable. There is also concern that having to “navigate the patent minefield”–by figuring out what is already patented and using alternative technologies or paying licensing fees–deters research that builds on past discoveries and serves as a barrier to entry by small organizations. Do you think patents at public universities have helped or hindered scientific progress?

You bring up important questions and the simple answer is that it hasn’t hindered or helped scientific progress. Scientists rarely ever patent anything and the VAST majority of research is in the fundamentals. In fact, people lament there is a lack of people who DON’T do fundamental research. To put it simply, scientists are a quirky bunch and Academia in general is simply not geared towards how people think in Pharma or how to develop new technologies.

I was lucky at McGill because I share the patent with the university and my boss. However some universities take 100% of the credit and give nothing to the principal investigator or the graduate student. This therefore removes incentives.

The patent minefield is a nightmare, but if you have an office for technology transfer, or something like that at your university, you can go and see them and they’ll help you piece together your studies and take care of the bureaucracy and paper work. Patenting law is a field of its own as I’m sure you know and its not something a scientist can or has the time to do by himself.

The amount of money going into research has not in itself created an increase in university funding. However, if you mean to say the increase in university funding was done stimulate the development of new technologies, it has failed.

Pharmas and MDs doesn’t give a damn how anything works as long as it works. Academia and the scientific journals generally only care how things work. This dichotomy makes it so academia and pharma don’t have the same goals and its rare to find situations where they overlap. Furthermore, there is the saying “publish or perish” in Academia. The problem with Pharma is that if you do publish, you disclose your information and its no longer protected and you’re screwed. A big problem for my PhD was getting the patent out with enough data to hold together but to also get Pharma to be interested. A lot of the time I would send my articles out to journals and I would get ridiculous comments back because the PhDs who read it didn’t understand the rationale behind why we designed our articles the way we did. We have to take a more practical approach to how we do things and explain how our stuff works in my lab because we don’t do basic science, we do translational research that’s meant to translate over to the clinic and that puts people outside their comfort zone. Its a really careful balance.

The biggest problem with doing research outside Pharmas to get patents like this ultimately is that patents are good for ~20 years and this makes it so that you lose time by doing this kind of work in Academia. If you have to publish your work, it means you have to disclose and you need to protect yourself. As soon as you do this, the clock starts ticking. If you need a few more years of work before Pharma even wants to look at you, much less start the process to bring things to trial, then that is time and revenue you lost. Pharmas won’t need to disclose anything until the very end.

To answer the question of new technologies: the lack of new technologies has to do with intellectual laziness. As soon as someone thinks of something strange that no one things is going to work and then shows it does, there’s a “me too!” phenomenon. Pharma is really BAD at innovating because of they way they approach problems. To make a long story short, they typically don’t foster an environment of thinking outside the box and creativity; they are much more industrial in how they approach things. They have a process and they don’t budge from that process… At best, what they’ll do is buy out the small biotech that developed the weird new molecule to acquire the technology, not develop it in house.

Another way to think about the lack of innovation is to look at the video games industry. You just need to listen to people like Keiji Inafune who said Capcom devotes 70-80% of its budget to sequels, to see that sequels is what Square Enix is relying on right now for maintaining their bottom line, that Activision is all about sequels, to the point it ran Guitar Hero into the ground (as famously parodied/foretold by Penny-Arcade). They don’t want something that is original or different, they want something that has already been established to provide a rate of return. They don’t care about mechanisms of action of molecules, they care about business plans, the size of the market and how the product will interact with the market over time. How any corporation is run is almost independent of what its actually making. When it comes to any kind of industry, the people making the decisions are not the people connected to the product, making the product, refining the product, etc. The further up the food chain you are, the further you are from the product you’re selling. Ultimately, innovation is a risk and it may or may not pay out. If you show a group of investors 20 molecules that you claim will cure cancer, they will not be capable of distinguishing 1 from the other. It will be pointless to talk to them about how it works and how magical it is and how this makes it better than the closest competitor. This is not how they think and they don’t have the background to beginning understanding this language. It will boil down to who can give the most convincing argument that it will provide the best rate of return.

Dude, they made creams and shit that get rid of crabs years ago, this isn’t news.