April is cancer awareness and fundraising month. I thought it would be interesting to analyze what’s going on behind the scenes of cancer research. I was a cancer researcher for over 3 years at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) from 1972 to 1975 and I will share some insider experiences here.
1. Publish or perish
We were told by our supervisors to “publish or perish”. In other words all the experiments we did needed to fit into the larger picture the group was working on, and the results should be different and interesting and most of all publishable. There had to be significant differences between experimental groups and controls, so that publishers of medical journals would accept them for publication. There were often two or three manuscript revisions where the content was “massaged” (proper wording, comparing or opposing the results with other publications) so that it was considered “publishable”.
2. Fund raising awareness
One of the major fund sources for cancer research in Canada was the MRC (Medical Research Council of Canada), which has been replaced by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in 2000. Without money there is no cancer research, so everybody was aware of the policies and expectations of the fund source.
3. Mouse model versus human tissue based research
I was working in the immunology section of the biophysics department, where basic medical research at the OCI is done. In this department much research had already been performed separating cell populations in a mouse model to determine what cell types were needed to initiate an immune response. The B cells in mammals are antibody-producing cells of the immune system that protect from viruses. T cells are thymus-processed cells that turn into killer cells, which can attack parasites and also cancer cells. I was working in this area. We did cell separation experiments where the cells were separated according to cell size and collected in vials. Subsequently remixing experiments were done to find out what cell types were needed to mount an immune response to a mouse tumor cell line as targets. I started questioning whether a mouse model would be the appropriate model to study human cancer biology. But this was not met with approval, as the “holy grail” was that what worked in a mouse model (mouse mammalian cells) should also work in the human situation (human mammalian cells).
4. Non-medical researchers in cancer research
This is a thorny issue, but a reality. My immediate supervisor in cancer research had a PHD in physics, which was perfect for sorting out density issues for cell separation experiments. His colleague and co-chair of the immunology department had a PHD in biology, which was a good fit for mouse experiments. Both of them felt somewhat insecure when I asked probing questions about relevance of mouse experiments for the human cancer condition. As I needed to publish my experiments, which were done under the supervision of these supervisors, I had to quiet down and concentrate on the mouse model the team was working on. For a while this could even be exciting as we were studying the cell interaction between macrophages and T cells to mount a cell-mediated immune response.
5. Regulation of the cancer research industry
After playing with cell cultures for 2 ½ years it was time for me to reach out to get a job in the cancer research field or else go back to medicine. In1975 there was no equal opportunity legislation in place that would have protected me as a landed immigrant from discrimination. The reality in 1975 was that only Canadian born physicians who attended a Medical School in Canada could become a director of a cancer research facility in Canada. The rules for me (I had left Germany right after my rotating internship) were that I had to go through further medical training and pass the Canadian licensing exam (LMCC), which I did eventually at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. One final attempt to shed light on my options was an interview with the “big boss” at the Ontario Cancer Institute at the time, a physician cancer researcher, Dr. Ernest A. McCulloch, for whom I had great respect. He was a sharp thinker and had vision, and he was a fellow physician. I asked him what he would do on the long-term, if he was in my place. He said that in the long-term with my medical background it would be a lot more satisfying for me to get back into medicine and practice medicine. However, he wanted me to go on for another 1 or 2 years and publish more papers together with my supervisors. I decided for myself right there that I would leave cancer research and I prepared quietly for my exit. Within a short time I got a position to work as an intern at a hospital at McMaster University and in the spring of 1978 I passed the LMCC (licensing) exam. As a fully licensed physician in Canada I was no longer interested in “slave work” in cancer research. I also left the cold winters of Ontario behind and went to the west, to British Columbia.
6. Future vision of medical cancer research
Research has come a long way. Recently I came across a new breast cancer protocol, which is non-toxic, without chemotherapy and without radiation. It is so unconventional that the US research team, aware of the politics in the US, decided to do the initial trials in the Caribbean. I wrote a blog about this new breast cancer treatment protocol, which I believe will become the future standard for breast cancer therapy and perhaps even for other cancers.
In Germany and Switzerland there is an alternative breast cancer treatment with a non-toxic plant-based chemotherapy involving mistletoe extracts. It has a dual action, namely a chemotherapeutic effect, but at the same time an immune system stimulating effect. Here is a study going back to 2001, which is still relevant. There was a 40% long-term survival benefit in the Iscador group when compared to a control group without treatment. Normally, oncologists would jump at such an excellent chemotherapeutic agent as even chemotherapeutic agents that show a 25% beneficial survival effect would be considered a good treatment option. However, as the medication is a simple mistletoe extract and cannot be patented, Big Pharma is not interested in marketing this. As a result cancer treatment protocols in Europe are significantly different from those in North America.
In the future I would expect that non-toxic treatment methods for any type of cancer will be more successful than any chemotherapeutic or radiation treatment approaches as both interfere with the immune function, which is what will kill the patient at the end. As cancer is a disease where the immune system fails, cancer patients need to be shown how to stimulate their immune system, as this is the only thing, which can control cancer on the long-term.
You will hear more about epigenetic switches as often a cancer producing substance will turn off a gene (epigenetic switch) and this causes cancer. Remove what throws that switch into the off position or introduce a healing agent that resets the switch and the cancer will get eliminated.
7. Prevention of cancer
The most powerful cancer preventatives are found in herbs, spices, vitamins and minerals. Did you know that curcumin, derived from the Indian spice turmeric, prevents a number of cancers? Similarly, vitamin D3 at high enough doses (4000 to 5000 IU per day) has been shown to prevent cancers. Linus Pauling showed long time ago that vitamin C at high enough dose would be an antioxidant and would stimulate the immune system and thereby be a cancer preventative. It works together with a detoxifying antioxidant, glutathione in the liver to neutralize any free radicals, which are aggressive chemicals that cause cancer. There are many other vitamins and minerals that I have explained elsewhere, which are needed together with organic food to give you the building blocks for a stable cell metabolism. This in turn will strengthen the immune system to defend you from toxins of the environment. A simple step like a daily exercise routine can cut your cancer risk down to 50% compared to those who elect to not exercise. Did I mention the importance of quitting smoking and cutting out alcohol? The “quit smoking” part has been known for some time. I learnt about cancer being caused by smaller doses of alcoholic beverages over a long period of time at the Anti-Aging conference in Las Vegas in December 2011. First I thought it would be a big deal to quit alcohol entirely. But since I have quit the modest few drinks per month that I thought I would miss, I actually have not missed them at all! I strongly believe in cancer prevention, so quitting alcohol completely was only one small step in this overall objective. In view of the recent statement by the WHO that 70% of all deaths are caused by smoking and drinking of alcoholic beverages, it behooves us to change our lifestyles, if we are at all interested in a healthy long life.
From reading about cancer research now, nothing has changed in cancer research circles since the time when I was part of it. Basic cancer research involving animal experiments is necessary. But in my opinion cancer research should be more human-centered using human cell lines in culture and using clinical trials. Ultimately cancer research needs to invent and develop new non-toxic cancer therapies to cure cancer patients.
More on cancer in general and on specific cancers: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/
Last edited Nov. 6, 2014