Looking At Cancer Through the Eyes of a Physical Scientist

Stop thinking cancer as a disease! I don’t think we need to cure cancer

Cancer research has traditionally been carried out by biologists and medical researchers. They did not seem to get  anywhere, in spite of being able to generate tons and tons of data.

In 2008, the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) created 12 “Physical Science-Oncology Centers institutions” and sponsored mathematicians and physical scientists to initiate new, non-traditional approaches to cancer research.

NCI Director John E. Niederhuber said: “By bringing a fresh set of eyes to the study of cancer, these new centers have great potential to advance, and sometimes challenge, accepted theories about cancer and its supportive microenvironment. Physical scientists think in terms of time, space, pressure, heat and evolution in ways that we hope will lead to new understandings of the multitude of forces that govern cancer.”

One of the scientists involved in the “rethinking”  of cancer is Professor Paul Davies, a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist and  astrobiologist. He is Regents’ Professor and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, and Principal Investigator in the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology, all at Arizona State University.

I have the benefit of reading some of Dr. Davies’  papers found in the internet.

Physics not biology may be key to beating cancer. Source: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21728970.200-physics-not-biology-may-be-key-to-beating-cancer.html

Cancer: The beat of an ancient drum. Source: The Guardian,  25 April 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/25/cancer-evolution-ancient-toolkit-genes

New research program to approach cancer studies differently. Source: http://www.statepress.com/archive/node/8973 

Rethinking cancer. Physics World, 2010. Source: http://cancer-insights.asu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Physics-World-June-20101.pdf 

For your information, let me quote what this learned, non-medical professor said about cancer. Indeed we need non-medical researchers to call a spade a spade. Let’s hope that those in the medical profession take heed.

Present Day Cancer Research

  • Cancer touches almost everyone in some way. Forty years ago President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer”. Yet in spite of $100 billion of taxpayer-funded research in the US alone, the mortality and morbidity rates for most cancers have remained almost unchanged. 
  • Dozens of much-hyped “cures” developed by drug companies are either useless or have marginal effect. 
  • Billions of dollars have been spent on cancer research and a million research papers have been published, yet most cancer sufferers have not benefited greatly from that effort. 
  • With the exception of a handful of cancer types, such as childhood leukaemia, progress on treatments has been limited to baby steps …  leading to marginal extensions of life expectancy.
  • Cancer biology is a subject about which a vast amount is known but very little is understood. So could it be that researchers cannot see the wood for the trees? 
  • Right now, the huge cancer research programme is long on technical data, but short on understanding.
  • Cancer research is dominated by genetics and biochemistry. That’s why we have the therapies, genetic and chemotherapy, as the main approaches. I think that we can open up a whole new frontier just by thinking about the problem in a totally different way.

Changing Concept of Cell

  • In the 19th century, living organisms were widely regarded as machines infused by vital forces.
  • Biologists eventually came to realise that cells are … complex networks of chemical reaction pathways.
  • Then came the genetics revolution, which describes life in the informational language of instructions, codes and signalling.

Mainstream research today focuses almost exclusively on chemical pathways or genetic sequencing. For example, drugs are designed to block reaction pathways implicated in cancer. But while of great scientific interest, such projects have not led to the much-anticipated breakthrough. Why?

There are fundamental obstacles: living cells, including cancer cells, are a bottomless pit of complexity, and cancer cells are notoriously heterogeneous. A reductionist approach that seeks to unravel the details of every pathway of every cancer cell type might employ researchers for decades and consume billions of dollars, with little impact clinically.

  • Here is …  another way of looking at cells. In addition to being bags of chemicals and information processing systems, they are also physical objects, with properties such as size, mass, shape, elasticity, free energy, surface stickiness and electrical potential. Cancer cells contain pumps, levers, pulleys and other paraphernalia familiar to physicists and engineers. Furthermore, many of these properties are known to change systematically as cancer progresses in malignancy.
  • The challenge is now to unify all three pictures – chemical, genetic and mechanistic.

Need to Change the Perception About Disease and Cure

  • To make a start …  it is helpful to stop thinking of cancer as a disease to be cured.
  • Many accounts misleadingly describe cancer as rogue cells running amok.
  • Cancer cells are not themselves “germs”; rather, they are part of one’s own body, misbehaving in a manner that may produce undesirable consequences for the organism. 
  • I don’t think we need to cure cancer.  We do not need a “cure”; rather, we need to better control and manage how cancer cells behave and, ideally, prevent cells turning malignant in the first place. 
  • In fact, I don’t really think of cancer as a disease as much as an alternative form of living matter. We don’t need to cure it, we just need to manage it for long enough that people die of something else. 
  • It is a misconception to think that people either “have cancer” or not. Cancers usually go through a progression from mostly innocuous progenitor cells to full blown malignancy, and at any given time most people (at least those of middle age and beyond) harbour cancer cells and even small tumours in their bodies that produce no ill effects.
  • Cancer cells are not the invincible enemy of folklore, but recalcitrant variants of healthy cells that face their own struggle for survival against the body’s immune system. 
  • We need to get away from the notion of a cure, and think of controlling or managing cancer. And just as the effects of ageing can be mitigated without a full understanding of the process, the same could be true of cancer. 

Darwinism and Cancer: the Evolutionary Roots

  • With no prior knowledge of cancer, I started asking some very basic questions. What struck me from the outset is that something as pervasive and stubborn as cancer must be a deep part of the story of life itself. 
  • Sure enough, cancer is found in almost all multicellular organisms, suggesting its origins stretch back hundreds of millions of years. 
  • Oncologists tend to think of cancer as a motley collection of cells gone berserk, but to me the way that tumours grow and spread to other organs indicates an organised and systematic strategy, designed to evade all that the body and the medical profession can throw at it. Such well-honed behaviour suggests they are the product of a long period of biological evolution. 
  • Cancer is pervasive among all organisms (not just mammals) in which adult cells proliferate. There is a simple – some may say simplistic – Darwinian explanation of cancer’s insidiousness, which is based on the fact that all life on Earth was originally single-celled. Each cell had a basic imperative: replicate, replicate, replicate. However, the emergence of multicellular organisms about 550million years ago required individual cells to co-operate by subordinating their own selfish genetic agenda to that of the organism as a whole.
  • The genes needed to fashion the primitive cellular aggregates of the Proterozoic era did not all become defunct. Some were incorporated into the genomes of later, more sophisticated, organisms, and lurk inside human beings to this day. That’s because they still serve a crucial function.
  • It  has long been recognised that there are many similarities between cancer and embryo development, and evidence is mounting that some genes expressed during embryogenesis get re-awakened in cancer.  When an embryo develops, its genes lay down a body plan, starting with the most basic and most ancient features.
  • So when an embryo develops, identical stem cells progressively differentiate into specialized cells that differ from organ to organ – be it kidney, brain or lung. All these cells contain the same genes, but not all of the genes are constantly active. The body has a number of chemical mechanisms to switch genes on and off, which allow cells in different organs to have different properties that can vary with time. The colon, for example, needs to rapidly replenish cells sloughed off by the passage of food, whereas the cells in other organs, such as in the brain, have a slow turnover and reproduce only rarely. 
  • With advancing age, however, that command and control system develops flaws. If a cell does stop responding properly to the regulatory signals, it may go on reproducing in an uncontrolled way, forming a tumour specific to the organ in which it arises. 
  • The implications of our theory, if correct, are profound. Rather than cancers being rogue cells degenerating randomly into genetic chaos, they are better regarded as organised footsoldiers marching to the beat of an ancient drum, recapitulating a billion-year-old lifestyle. As cancer progresses in the body, so more and more of the ancestral core within the genetic toolkit is activated, replaying evolution’s story in reverse sequence. And each step confers a more malignant trait, making the oncologist’s job harder. 
  • It is well known that cells regulate the action of genes not just as a result of chemical signals, but because of the physical properties of their micro-environment. They can sense forces such as shear stresses and the elasticity of nearby tissue. They are also responsive to temperature, electric fields, pH, pressure and oxygen concentration. Most normal cells seem to come pre-loaded with a “cancer subroutine” that can be triggered by a variety of insults.

Metastasis – the Spread of Cancer

  • Only 10 percent of people die from primary tumors.  The mere presence of cancer cells in the body is not in itself necessarily a danger. 
  • It is their ability to target, invade and cling to other tissues that leads to problems. 
  • Most existing cancer treatments involve trying to remove a tumour surgically or destroying it with radiation … oncologists are often in the dark about why certain drugs actually work, or why normal dose–response relationships do not seem to apply. Cancer cells are notorious for mutating rapidly, often developing resistance to specific drugs or undergoing a resurgence years later with an acquired immunity somehow remembered. 
  • Chemotherapy can be effective at shrinking tumours and prolonging life somewhat, but …  can even be counter-productive by leaving a handful of resistant cells alive with no competition to arrest their explosive spread. As a result, drugs are rarely the perfect solution. 
  • When cancer cells spread around the body, this is a physics problem. These cells are microscopic bodies being swept along in this raging torrent. They wriggle around, they latch on to surfaces, they drill their way through. This is the sort of language that physicists and engineers can understand.  
  • Although metastasis seems fiendishly efficient, most disseminated cancer cells never go on to cause trouble. The vast majority die, and the survivors may lie dormant for years or even decades, either as individual, quiescent, cells in the bone marrow, or as micro-metastases in tissues, before erupting into proliferating secondary tumours. 
  • When tumours start shedding cells into the bloodstream and lymphatic system, allowing the cancer to spread around the body, a secondary tumour may then develop in organs far removed from the original. 
  • The spread of cancer presents many possibilities for clinical intervention once the dream of a cure has been abandoned. For example, if the period of dormancy can be extended by, say, a factor of five, many breast, colon and prostate cancers would cease to be a health issue. How could this be achieved? 
  • A key hallmark of cancer is that it can also grow in an organ where it does not belong; for example, a prostate-cancer cell may grow in a lymph node, or an ovarian-cancer cell in the liver. 
  • Metastatic cells may lie dormant, like spores, for many years in foreign organs, evading the body’s immune system while retaining their potency. Healthy cells, in contrast, soon die if they are transported beyond their rightful organ. 
  • Although tumour cells struggle to obtain oxygen from the normal blood supply, in response they can switch their metabolism to a low-oxygen cycle, thereby creating acidic conditions as a by-product that can harm other cells. In some respects, the self-centred nature of cancer cells is a reversion to an ancient, pre-multicellular lifestyle. 
  • Cancer cells are therefore neither rogue “selfish cells”, nor do they display the collective discipline of organisms with fully differentiated organs. They fall somewhere in between, perhaps resembling an early form of loosely organized cell colonies. 
  • Nowadays, most cancer researchers adopt a “followthe-genes” approach, based on the notion that an accumulation of defective (mutated) or misbehaving genes are the primary cause of cancer. Humans have between 20 000 and 30 000 genes in total, but many are switched off depending on the type of cell or its stage of growth.

Comments 

The world ought to be glad to learn that at last someone has decided that perhaps non-medical scientists ought to have a look at cancer from a different perspective. So the US National Cancer Institute decided to invite non-medical experts to research on cancer.

Is this not what Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century said years back?

  • We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
  • When all think alike, no one thinks very much.

I am happy that Professor Paul Davies had come out with his new insights about cancer. He made these suggestions:

  • STOP thinking of cancer as a disease to be cured that must be totally destroyed or bombed out of existence.
  • STOP frightening  or put FEAR in us that cancer consist of rogue cells running amok. These are not an enemy. It is a part of the complexity of life that we inherited since life on earth begun. 
  • TEACH us how to manage the cancer like we manage our ageing process.

For years, practitioners of alternative healing  are saying the same things.  At CA Care I have been telling patients to learn how to live with their cancer. There is no need to fight. Fighting to me implies “war” – and we don’t want to start a war in our body. We need peace and harmony. When the times comes, let us die with our cancer.

Watch this video.

Many cancer patients come to us with a very naive notion. They are bought up by the idea that chemo is going to destroy all the cancer cells and they will be cured. The enemy in the body is done with. Soon afterwards many patients learn the folly of their ignorance.

Then,  they are told,  If the medical treatments cannot destroy all, at least the cancer is brought under control. Here again patients are just being misled — read the next posting to know that medical treatments could actually cause cancer to spread more and make it even more aggressive!`

5 Chemo does not curecancer

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