Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Tripping Over The Truth

The war against cancer has not gone well. A great deal of resources has gone into fighting this massive killer, but the casualty count continues to rise. In the fascinating book Tripping over the Truth, author Travis Chistofferson discusses how we have probably poured a ton of money down the drain chasing down a flawed theory. There is a better hypothesis about what causes cancer, and it is leading to more effective treatments and even cures.

If you have the same basic, rudimentary view of cancer that I did before reading this book, you probably see it as a disease as a result of mutations (perhaps encouraged by some carcinogen(s)) of a gene(s), which then turns a cell into an energetic, over-growing killing machine that we see in the form of tumours. This view is generally widely accepted, and most research related to therapies has been focused on turning those genes back into normal ones and/or trying to kill cells that have these changed genes.

Unfortunately, this process has not gone well. Christofferson argues that it's because we have the cause and effect all wrong. Something else is causing those genes to go haywire, so all we are doing is treating the symptoms of cancer rather than the cause, sending us on a wild-goose chase. Some evidence I can recall from the book that supports the notion that haywire genes are not the cause we need to be treating (keep in mind I am a layman in this field, so I may not quite understand all these processes!):

- It's hard to pin down which genes are causing cancers. Most cancers appear to have tumours containing cells with different genes, suggesting no one gene or even group of genes is an original cause
- Even within the same tumour, cells appear to have different combinations of "cancerous" genes
- Where cancers have spread in the body to more than one site, again there are different genes within the separate tumours, suggesting no original source
- An incredible experiment where nuclei (which include the genes) were transplanted from both healthy and cancerous cells and replaced by cancerous and healthy nuclei, respectively. The cancerous nucleus with the healthy remainder of the cell was found not give cancer to its hosts (mice), while the healthy nucleus with the cancerous remainder of the cell did!

Christofferson provides evidence that cancer is actually a mitochondrial problem, which causes certain signals to be sent to the nucleus, which then turns on/off some genes in order to send the cell into desperate survival mode. The mitochondria are unable to convert oxygen into energy at the same rate as a healthy cell, and so the cell does what it needs to do in order to get its energy needs from glucose instead.

The book is fascinating. I learned a lot about the state of the industry, and though there were some parts I couldn't quite follow because I lack the technical expertise, I enjoyed the cell biology lessons, as they were written with the layperson in mind. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested even remotely interested in this topic.



Amazing 👍

Anonymous said...

For the last point, the references are

Israel BA, Schaeffer WI: Cytoplasmic suppression of malignancy. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol 1987, 23:627-632. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4296121

srael BA, Schaeffer WI: Cytoplasmic mediation of malignancy. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol 1988, 24:487-490. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02628504