Biology 466 Unsolved Problems Fall 2011
Special vulnerabilities of cancer cells (?)Which of the following do you agree with?
a) To cure cancer, the main need is some (any!) way to kill cancer cells, that doesn't also kill normal cells.
b) Reversing the abnormalities of cancer cells isn't really what you should try to do. Effects too temporary.
c) Selective killing of faster growing cells has two big disadvantages:
** Very unpleasant side effects: Anemia, nausea, hair loss, even heart damage.
e) When anyone claims that the reason a phenomenon isn't yet understood is "Because it's very complicated." the implicit claim is that the basic concepts are already fully understood, except for details?
f) In 1951, why wasn't the chemistry of genes yet understood? Because it was "very complicated"?
g) If current chemotherapy drugs and methods already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient, then what economic motivation does anyone have to improve them?
h) Would an actual cure of cancer bankrupt, or enrich? Who stands to gain, other than the actual patients?
i) If a treatment can't be patented, why would anyone invest millions of dollars in testing, manufacturing, advertising and distributing it?
j) Why is there no current research of Coley's toxins, even though there is evidence they cured thousands?
** Because it's many years too late to patent them?
It's one thing for cancer patients to be charged tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for less-specific monoclonal antibodies. It's quite another thing for the antibodies to cost that much to manufacture!
l) If you discovered a chemical, or other treatment, that you had reason to think might cure cancer, who would test it for you?
m) Is cancer one disease? Or many different diseases, with a few things in common?
n) Are cancers of different organs therefore fundamentally different diseases?
o) Are cancers caused by mutations in the same oncogene (for example, ras) therefore fundamentally the same disease (even if in different organs).
p) Might it be practical to invent a way to cause individual cells to be killed as a direct result of having a mutant ras oncogene? Or would it be better to discover a drug that corrects the abnormality in the ras protein, so that the mutant cells would (temporarily) return to normal behavior?
q) Which company would you invest in? A company developing a treatment that caused cells to be killed by abnormal ras proteins? Or a company with a drug that makes mutant ras proteins behave normally?
r) Should government agencies develop and sell anti-cancer drugs, themselves. Or should the government confine itself to research on the basic biology, and leave drug testing and sales to the private sector.
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