April 08, 2008

TED Talk: Eva Vertes on Cancer

Meet Eva Vertes. In 2005, at age 19, she presented to "Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED)" on the subject of cancer. Her enthusiasm about science is really quite astounding; at 14 she decided to work in a neurology lab and in the process she discovered a purine precursor inhibits degeneration.

Discovering that guanosine protects against Alzheimer's is an impressive feat... and she's got so many more years as a researcher to learn and investigate! Cool.

She goes on to share some of her ideas about cancer cells and stem cells. Her ideas matched my own when I first started learning about medicine... I too was shocked to discover that cancer and stem cells weren't really that far apart. Both are immature tissue, but one has a purpose, the other is selfish. Perhaps cancer is a reaction to injury that just gets out of control, she proposes.

I think she's right... in part on this issue. My current understanding on cancer is that the injury causes cells to regenerate and this replication process increases THE RISK of mutations that lead to cancer. Our bodies never intend to make cancer. We are a Collective of cells that function as a group... we don't intentionally make Invasive Parasites that will kill us. So, I think the causal chain of events looks more like:
injury --> regeneration + OOPS, replication error! --> CANCER
than it does

Cancer is the dark side of stem cell therapy. Stem cell treatments just introduce something that is "totipotent", the power to become 'anything and everything,' into the body and then you sit back and hope that it will follow your directions. What if we get an OOPS moment instead? Suddenly, our most promising therapy becomes our most feared and difficult disease to treat -- ourselves.

Her questioning takes her onto the subject of muscles and cancer. Again, I asked the same question that she did. I've heard of breast cancer and lung cancer... how come I've never heard of Heart cancer? Terminally differentiated tissues that do not regenerate like muscle cells do not become cancerous. There are some embryonic cancers of the heart and skeletal muscle (rhabdomyoma/rhabdomyosarcoma), but these come from the OOPS stem cells in children rather than the damaged heart or muscle tissue in an adult.

What excited me most about her talk were her theories on metastasis and skeletal muscle's resistance to invasion by cancer cells. She offered up a few theories on inhibition of the necessary blood supply for cancer, a reorganization of the tissue or most interestingly, the skeletal muscle tells the tumor to become muscle tissue as well!

She finishes with one final thought:
When the body initiates a process and we call that a disease... it doesn't seem that elimination is the right solution. So this might sound far fetched but in the future, cancer could be used as therapy. If there are diseases where tissues are degenerating, for example Alzheimer's, where the brain cells die and we need to restore new brain cells, what if we could use cancer, a tumor, and put it in the brain and cause it to differentiate? These cancer cells are so versatile; we just have to manipulate them in the right way.
A compelling idea indeed. If we manage that, without any neurological damage like memory loss, we would be well on our way to immortality at the cancer rejuvenation clinic.

1 comment:

  1. watching it now on ted.com great person alot of passion!