David MacKay “Perhaps my last post – we’ll see”

David MacKay

Prof. David MacKay has done more than any other human to improve our understanding of practical energy policy. His famous book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air is on the bookshelf of everyone who is seriously interested in making the future better. 

Yesterday David wrote:

I noticed that the posts of a friend who died of cancer trickled away to a non-conclusion, and this seems an inevitable difficulty, that the final post won’t ever get writ.

I’d like my posts to have an ending, so I’m going to make this my final one – maybe.

Ever the scientist, he has been documenting his experience as a cancer patient. For example Bye-bye Chemotherapy, Hello TP53! explains how he and his oncologist discuss prospects and options. I hope that David recovers so well that he can write a new book – a scientist’s perspective on how he became a former cancer patient.

Metastatic cancer cells implode on protein contact

By attaching a cancer-killer protein to white blood cells, Cornell biomedical engineers have demonstrated the annihilation of metastasizing cancer cells traveling throughout the bloodstream.

The study, “TRAIL-Coated Leukocytes that Kill Cancer Cells in the Circulation,” was published online the week of Jan. 6 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These circulating cancer cells are doomed,” said Michael King, Cornell professor of biomedical engineering and the study’s senior author. “About 90 percent of cancer deaths are related to metastases, but now we’ve found a way to dispatch an army of killer white blood cells that cause apoptosis – the cancer cell’s own death – obliterating them from the bloodstream. When surrounded by these guys, it becomes nearly impossible for the cancer cell to escape.”

That is from the Cornell press release. I sure hope these results can be replicated. How difficult is the technique?


The complexity of cancer: A science-based view

David Gorski writing for Science-Based Medicine. This is a not an easy essay, though Dr. Gorski has labored to make it accessible to the lay reader. So the essay doesn’t benefit from summarization — here are a couple of sample excerpts to motivate the reader to spend some time with Gorski’s original:

Last week I participated in a panel discussion at NECSS with John Snyder, Kimball Atwood, and Steve Novella, who reported on the conference last Monday.

(…) I couldn’t help but think a bit about the juxtaposition of our discussion of the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia with the hard core science being discussed at AACR. One session in particular at AACR highlighted what is one of the most significant differences between science-based medicine and the various forms of “alternative” medicine that we discuss here on SBM on such a regular basis. That difference, quite simply put, is the difference between the simple and the complex. “Alternative” medicine supporters often scoff at practitioners of science-based oncology, asking why we don’t have a “cure for cancer” yet—as if cancer were a single disease!—or why we haven’t made much more progress since President Richard Nixon declared “war on cancer” back in 1971. One part of the answer is that cancer is incredibly complicated. Not only is it not a single disease, but each variety of cancer is in and of itself incredibly complicated as well. To steal from Douglas Adams, cancer is complicated. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly complicated it is. I mean, you may think algebra is complicated, but that’s just peanuts to cancer.

(…) Right from the beginning, Dr. Brugge invoked Nixon’s war on cancer with a particularly appropriate observation, namely that the war has been far more difficult than anyone could possibly have ever envisioned in 1971. Back in 1971, in the wake of the discovery of the first oncogene, src, most scientists studied almost exclusively cancer cells, not appreciating the role of the surrounding matrix of normal cells and connective tissue in both preventing and modulating tumors. It’s true that, even back in 1971, scientists understood that the immune system has an important role in controlling cancer, but we lacked the tools to study this system in great detail. Since 1971, the list of discoveries about cancer has been long. Some examples include the discovery of many more oncogenes; tumor suppressor genes; the role of tumor angiogenesis in cancer; cancer stem cells; the rediscovery of the Warburg effect and metabolic derangements in cancer cells; and an enormous number of discoveries in tumor immunology. Each discovery helped us understand better how normal cells become tumors and how tumors grow, invade, and metastasize. But each discovery also led to additional complexities and more questions.

(…) It does however, when taken in context with other studies, suggest a great deal of complexity, where in some cases antioxidants prevent cancer and others may promote cancer.

Contrast this to the frequent alt-med claim that antioxidants prevent cancer and are virtually always good.

(…) Dr. [Lisa M.] Coussens’ talk is fascinating for what it revealed about the immune system and cancer. How many times have you heard “alternative medicine” believers and promoters brag that this nostrum or that potion “boosts the immune system”? As we’ve said before here, it’s a meaningless claim, because sometimes boosting the immune system is bad, as in autoimmune diseases. In cancer, it’s long been known that inflammation, particularly chronic inflammation, can lead to cancer. One of the most classic examples of this phenomenon is how gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to inflammation in the lower esophagus, which can lead to a change in the cells there known as Barrett’s esophagus, which can ultimately lead to esophageal cancer. Inflammation is a function of the immune system; consequently, when you take anti-inflammatories, you are suppressing part of the immune system on purpose in order to decrease inflammation. In any case, Dr. Coussens discussed how activation of certain parts of the immune system can suppress cancer development, while activation of other parts can promote tumor progression. This slide, taken on my iPhone, demonstrates the concept:

Please read the whole thing…