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May 18, 2006 4:58 PM   Subscribe


 
Flying cars in ten.
posted by furtive at 5:08 PM on May 18, 2006


FUCK CANCER. Hopefully this is really the cure.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 5:09 PM on May 18, 2006


.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:13 PM on May 18, 2006


The sky is rising!!!
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:13 PM on May 18, 2006


Hawkins should be more careful about overselling his research. I mean, it's nice that he's confident and everything, and I'm sure he needs the money, but five years?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:13 PM on May 18, 2006


the hospital doing the research is looking for donations
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 5:14 PM on May 18, 2006


Wow.
Kurzweil, etc.

"In the lab we have seen spectacular results in lung tumours and in the brain."
Congrats.
posted by bru at 5:15 PM on May 18, 2006


That's what they said about anti-angiogenesis drugs in the late 90s. And about genetically modified (?) adenoviruses in the mid-90s. [sigh]
posted by dilettante at 5:16 PM on May 18, 2006




As a lifelong Aquarius, I object to this blatant favoritism of the Cancers. All the Zodiac signs should be cured equally, even the Moon Children.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2006


I quit smoking for nothing?
posted by ColdChef at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2006


I am now going to go smoke.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:23 PM on May 18, 2006


I can stop feeling guilty about starting again?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:23 PM on May 18, 2006


And I can feel better about still puffing away!
posted by Zero Gravitas at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2006


Still no cure for self inflicted gunshot wounds.
posted by wigu at 5:31 PM on May 18, 2006


I'm not sure whether this qualifies as a derail (I'm a relatively new member!), but since the article is speculative as all get-out, I figure I'll take the speculation one step further.

*If* a relatively fool-proof cure for lung cancer were to be discovered, what would that do to the tobacco industry? Would there be some kind of smoking boom? Or would the financial burden/physical-emotional trauma of undergoing cancer treatment keep smoking statistics at their present level? Or maybe smoking would lose some degree of 'edginess' or 'cool' if it were no longer so strongly associated with painful, unnecessary death?

I am neither a medical scientist nor a sociologist, so these are just silly speculative questions I asked myself after reading the article. I look forward to the day when the tobacco industry is no longer a viable financial/political entity, but maybe I am being naive to think that this day will ever come.

NOTE: I choose lung cancer specifically because it is so yoked to a voluntary practice undertaken by individuals, and to the manipulative advertising practices of major financial entities. I do not mean to cancer-discriminate.
posted by scarylarry at 5:31 PM on May 18, 2006


PS: In the interest of disclosure, I am stubbing out a butt as I type.
posted by scarylarry at 5:33 PM on May 18, 2006


Should be noted that cancer isn't the only problem smoking causes, though. They'll need to find cures for emphusema, and heart disease as well.

(butts out cigarette too. the last one. I promise)
posted by Jimbob at 5:40 PM on May 18, 2006


What the fuck? This article is from April of 2005.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:40 PM on May 18, 2006


And here in the US we have people opposing a vaccine that could prevent a type of cancer because they don't want people having sex! Yay, us!

Sarcasm aside, I really hope this turns out to be true and to work. Next up, the flying cars!
posted by kosher_jenny at 5:42 PM on May 18, 2006


At least it's not from 2001.
posted by brundlefly at 5:43 PM on May 18, 2006


Well, I didn't notice that...

Stubs roll-up out.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:43 PM on May 18, 2006


scarylarry, there are plenty of other dangerous aspects to smoking, lung cancer is just the big one. i could imagine a smoking boom of sorts, but more likely things would just stay pretty much the same. Smoking has become such an alienating behavior that even if it were made completely safe, there are enough people who hate it that it would always carry some kind of stigma.

[speaking as a long time smoker]
posted by quin at 5:44 PM on May 18, 2006


Or you could just ignore my lack of preview and take note of what Jimbob said.
posted by quin at 5:49 PM on May 18, 2006


Only 4 years to go!
posted by lightweight at 5:50 PM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I dunno about y'all but I'm going to smoke me another hand-rolled asbestos cigarette. They may not have all the savoir faire of tobacco, nor the medicinal effect of marijuana, but they taste so good!
posted by djeo at 5:53 PM on May 18, 2006


Smoking has become such an alienating behavior that even if it were made completely safe, there are enough people who hate it that it would always carry some kind of stigma.
posted by quin at 5:44 PM PST


That's my take too, I think. I'm also *deathly* aware of the other maladies associated with smoking. But when I was in health class in junior high and high school, lung cancer was the only one drummed in. I wonder what a cancer cure would do for the PSA industry alone.

But I am being silly. Upon further reflection, the question I posed above is somewhat analagous to someone asking, upon the discovery of a cure for HIV/AIDS, whether the condom industry would suffer. Of course it wouldn't. There are other STDs to be caught, not to mention the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. And no one wants HIV, even if it could be wiped out with a vaccine. Same with cancer, I'd imagine. Smoking would have exactly the same (justified) stigma it has today.
posted by scarylarry at 6:00 PM on May 18, 2006


There aren't enough details in the linked article to know exactly what they're planning to do, but a general problem with this type of individually-tailored treatment is that it's, well, individual. You have to:

1. Collect T-cells from each patient
2. Do the genetic engineering (it sounds like they're inserting the gene for an antibody, so)
2a. Figure out what's the right antibody for the patient's particular tumor
2b. Insert the genes into the cells
2c. Grow up a bunch of these genetically modified cells
2d. Test them in vitro to prove that they have the desired characteristics
3. Inject into patient and monitor the outcome
4. Start all over for the next patient.

Unlike traditional drugs, which can be mass-produced, every cell line has to be tailor-made for each patient. Not only is this incredibly expensive (no economy of scale here), but it's a logistical nightmare.

Say you're in a busy hospital which has 10 or 20 patients in various stages of this therapy. Just imagine trying to keep track of which cells came from which patient, which genes go where, who gets what cell line injected ... it could be disastrous if a patient gets the wrong cells. (I've had to deal with chain of custody and sample tracking, and it is way more difficult than it sounds!)

Not to mention QC issues - how to ensure that cell lines don't get cross-contaminated, how to prove they aren't contaminated (remember the HeLa mess?), testing for viral burden, and a zillion other details that could possibly mean the difference between life and death.

I'm not saying it's impossible, and if it cures cancer, hey - it's worth it. Just that this type of treatment will likely be limited to major hospitals with large lab facilities, so if you're out in the boonies you'll have to travel. It will also cost an arm and a leg since it's "bespoke", so those of us without national health coverage, excellent insurance or a trust fund can pretty much forget about it. I also have a feeling that this type of therapy is realistic for only a few tumor types in the near future (I think the article is hyping it beyond its actual usefulness) since you have to know in advance which Ab or Abs to choose, and that's a whole field of research unto itself.

And lastly, I fear that this type of approach is much more prone to errors than mass production is. It's pretty straightforward to make a big batch of something that's already well understood, take samples for QC and stability, analyze the results of a single set of tests, and stamp the lot "good to go". Here, they'll be doing extremely complex, fiddly techniques over and over, just a little bit differently each time, making something slightly different each time, and trying to keep track of multiple samples in different stages of the process. Even with smart, motivated, competent people, I'm afraid there will be some really bad mistakes.

One more thing: 250,000 pounds doesn't sound like nearly enough money to set up a facility that can do all this. They must be collaborating with someone else...

Sorry for the length - I'm not living up to my username very well today, huh?
posted by Quietgal at 6:00 PM on May 18, 2006


My dad died in 1996 from cancer, if only he had lived to see this. Hopefully it actually works.
posted by Dean Keaton at 6:02 PM on May 18, 2006




I dunno about y'all but I'm going to smoke me another hand-rolled asbestos cigarette. They may not have all the savoir faire of tobacco ... but they taste so good!

Luckily, you can have it both ways.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:04 PM on May 18, 2006


bcveen, I should have known that the apes saga would answer all my questions. Who needs metafilter?
posted by scarylarry at 6:05 PM on May 18, 2006


fandango_matt

As a Cancer by virtue of my birth date, I hereby give you my place in the line to be cured.

The bad news is, the NHS won't be able to get you an appointment until 2038. Priorities and all that - I'm sure you understand...

(Having watched a friend die of metastizing bladder cancer, adenocarcinoma of the bladder specifically, you find your humor where you can.)

Scarylarry:

Smoking - it's burning carbon gratuitously. I see the environmentalists all over it if the health aspects are taken care of.

Seriously though, there's been a LOT of advances in cancer research. The angiogenisis inhibitors that dilettante mentioned have saved a lot of folks. They may not be a silver bullet to all kinds of cancers, but they're really promising on a wide range of them. And they're still going through clinical trials. They'll definitely be useful, though not a cure-all.

More and more we're learning how to attack the biology of cancer. It doesn't matter if there's a universal silver bullet - so long as there's one that'll hit what it's aimed at...

Kosher_Jenny -

The way folks drive around here, I don't want to imagine what they'd do with flying cars. It's dangerous enough with a 2-D (and occasional 3-D) environment - I don't want to think about a 3-D version.
posted by JB71 at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2006


I don't believe this. Cancer is not a single syndrome, but a whole range of conditions. Most cases spontaneously generate and they differ substantially (some are completely unique.) The idea that there's going to be a single cure for the entire spectrum is laughable. Even a single standardized treatment method or regiment seems unlikely.

Making such an overwhelming and unlikely claim without sufficient evidence to make it beyond doubt seems ethically questionable. That, and the request for funding, makes me a little leery of this whole affair. Maybe it's valid, but if we have a universal cure for all cancers (or even most) in 5 years (or even 15) I'll eat my hat.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2006


Quietgirl: Shhhh. By which I mean, thanks for an interesting, informative, on-topic post. I hadn't realised the extent to which tailoring cells compounded existing logistical nightmares. Only now it's pronounced 'Shhhh'.

Fandango_matt: Aren't Moon Children Cancers by another name? I, for one, am proud to be Cancerian. I used to hate it, but it grew on me.
posted by Sparx at 6:14 PM on May 18, 2006


Still, any kind of improvement to the current therapies is long overdue and sorely needed.
posted by Isabeau Sahen at 6:14 PM on May 18, 2006


Luckily, you can have it both ways.

Unreal. You try to make a joke and someone has preempted the most stupid thing you can think of.

Can I try again?

Smoking - it's burning carbon gratuitously.

Smoking - some call it pollution. We call it life.
posted by djeo at 6:15 PM on May 18, 2006


DejaVuFilter!
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:16 PM on May 18, 2006


Oooh. Apparently he later got 12 million euros funding circa Nov 2005.

Here's a more recent report (may 2006)

My google-fu is strong today.
posted by Sparx at 6:24 PM on May 18, 2006


Thanks, Sparx. The other articles look much more legitimate. It appears that most of what bothered me about the first was poor science reporting, not problems in the actual studies.

I do suspect this treatment will run into problems down the road, though. Multiplying and releasing immune cells seems like something that would be highly dangerous with regard to autoimmune diseases. However, the base concept sounds like it could be applied to infectious diseases as well.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:27 PM on May 18, 2006


That's what they said about anti-angiogenesis drugs in the late 90s. And about genetically modified (?) adenoviruses in the mid-90s.

You can find news stories dating back to at least the mid-1970s that this cancer researcher or that one has announced that his new breakthrough is going to cure cancer in five years, or ten, or fifteen. Not quacks, just guys who are a bit too optimistic.

scarylarry, there are plenty of other dangerous aspects to smoking, lung cancer is just the big one.

Actually, lung cancer is not the big one. Heart disease is the big one. Smoking kills more people by causing heart disease (e.g., 'heart attack') than by causing lung or other cancers. People are more afraid of cancer, though. Maybe it's the squickiness factor, the alien growing inside you.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:45 PM on May 18, 2006


more scientists and educators smoke metafilter.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:52 PM on May 18, 2006


on the other hand, a vaccine for (the virus that causes) cervical cancer is pretty much here, right now.
posted by heydanno at 7:04 PM on May 18, 2006


Hm. Let's put the emphasis in the proper place:

"... initial results of lab tests have been "spectacular".

You could probably say that about many of the lead compounds that make it from in vitro assays into small animal experiments. But then, over 95% of those compounds never make it to be licensed drugs. As it stands the average time from pre-clinical trials to FDA license for a (non-genetically modified) small molecule drug is years (up to 12 years, depending on who you ask).

This quote is akin to saying, "Wow ... that 20-week ultrasound looks great. That kid is definitely going to go to Harvard and graduate top of his class." I'm not sure who to blame - the scientist, who should take a minute to look up the word hubris, or the BBC, for hyping the story.

I'll believe it when I'm actually prescribing it for someone.
posted by scblackman at 7:37 PM on May 18, 2006


So I can smoke now?
posted by pmbuko at 7:39 PM on May 18, 2006


*lights cigarette, speeds off in personal helicopter*
posted by quonsar at 7:50 PM on May 18, 2006


Seriously, if this doesn't come out everywhere in five years and this turns out to be a stupid rumor, BBC links are going to be banned from mefi.
posted by scarabic at 7:56 PM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm 34 and 5 years out from Duke's stage C3 colon cancer. Everything is looking good so far but it is good to know researchers are working on the #2 cancer killer. This research looks promising. . . we shall see.

Thanks for sharing the updated information sparx.
posted by shimmerglimpse at 7:58 PM on May 18, 2006


"The cells are fitted with a "tracker" device to kill cancer cells before being injected back into the patient.

...

More traditional treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy destroy both healthy and cancerous cells."


Actually, shocking though this may sound, this technology has been around for years. My brother works for a big pharma company which engineers antigens that bind to specific cancer cells. They began by modifying immune cells to bind more favorably to cancerous cells, then began giving the targeted antigens a radioactive isotope attachment. This way, radiation is delivered on a cell-by-cell basis just where it's needed.

And yes, unhealthy cells are much less affected than with chemo or radiation therapy.

And yes, it is a remarkable technology.

And no, it is not a cure-all. The engineering work is in formulating the antigens. This is ungodly expensive to do even on a mass scale for a well-understood cancer. And the targeting is very specific. My brother's company's product targets a certain kind of lymphoma which represents under 10% of lymphoma patients. That's it.

And no, it won't take 5 more years. The technology's been around for 10. I'm probably missing the details, but there is not much detail provided in this link to point out where. So foo.
posted by scarabic at 8:03 PM on May 18, 2006


In the interest of disclosure, I am stubbing out a butt as I type.

your keyboard must be a real mess
posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 PM on May 18, 2006


Sorry to shoot this down but....

So for my credentials I'm a PhD student at Cornell/Memorial Sloan kettering cancer center here in nyc, one of the best cancer directed research institutes in the world

This is not an end all be all cure. Yes, this will work phenominally well for certain types of cancer. Certain types over express antigens that make them ideally suited to be targetted by the immune system. But others don't/we don't know their antigens yet.

Promising? Yes. But stop smoking if you don't want to die a horrible death.
posted by slapshot57 at 8:27 PM on May 18, 2006


your keyboard must be a real mess

Actually, it is, but that's mostly cookie crumbs. Oh god, I'm beating the coronaries off with sticks. Sticks made of fudge.
posted by scarylarry at 8:33 PM on May 18, 2006


stop smoking if you don't want to die a horrible death

meh. death is as death does.
posted by quonsar at 8:36 PM on May 18, 2006


Keep smoking - the world is overpopulated.
posted by caddis at 8:55 PM on May 18, 2006


Fusion in 20.

Keep smoking - the world is overpopulated.

Smoking make cut 10, 20 even 30 years off your life, but that's plenty of time to reproduce.
posted by delmoi at 9:00 PM on May 18, 2006


Hmm, it's an interesting idea, rather then coming up with a wonder cure, they're coming up with a method to quickly come up with new cures for specific patents. Smart.
posted by delmoi at 9:02 PM on May 18, 2006



Cancer vaccines and other immune manipulating cancer therapies may work well for some types of cancer.

Many cancers, however, develop "immune privelege" by expressing FasL. These cancers would be immune to this therapy. I don't think there's any way around this either. If you remove Fas from the engineered T-cells being injected, you'd could be giving someone leukemia.
posted by u2604ab at 9:07 PM on May 18, 2006


They actually know how to do fusion, you know.
posted by cellphone at 9:10 PM on May 18, 2006


I'm not sure who to blame - the scientist, who should take a minute to look up the word hubris, or the BBC, for hyping the story.

I'd go with the reporter. They describe "genetically modifying" the cell to attach antibodies to it. You could make a cell that expresses a certain antibody type that way, but making that antibody stick to the cell would require a whole new set of tricks.

Sticking an antibody onto a cell, however, would be a simple chemical process.

After seeing that it doesn't take much to see a scientist saying, "if this works, this will happen and then if this works then this will happen" and the reporter writing, "this and then this will happen".
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:23 PM on May 18, 2006


They actually know how to do fusion, you know.

Fusion power, I should say.
posted by delmoi at 11:27 PM on May 18, 2006


If only smoking killed before puberty. *sigh*




full disclosure later
posted by sourwookie at 11:48 PM on May 18, 2006


Wasn't there a recent study that suggested that medicine and science reporters are so bad at their jobs that they report any advance in the treatment of cancer as though it were a miracle cure?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:54 PM on May 18, 2006


Congrats smokers! Now you'll just die of heart disease!
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:27 AM on May 19, 2006


Wasn't there a recent study that suggested that medicine and science reporters are so bad at their jobs that they report any advance in the treatment of cancer as though it were a miracle cure?

In fact, you've just given them their next headline:

Science Reporters So Bad, Any Advance a Miracle!

Yes, that's the general state of science reporting. The attitude is that it's not news unless a previously nasty, well-known, common problem has just finally been overcome. And if the truth is too hard to explain or does not sound impressive enough, report a version that is easy to explain, even if what you report is not what happened.
posted by pracowity at 1:21 AM on May 19, 2006


It's called sensationalism. It's par for the course.
posted by IronLizard at 1:44 AM on May 19, 2006


Curing cancer doesn't make as much sense to me as learning how to prevent it.
posted by recurve at 1:51 AM on May 19, 2006


Many cancers, however, develop "immune privelege" by expressing FasL. These cancers would be immune to this therapy. I don't think there's any way around this either. If you remove Fas from the engineered T-cells being injected, you'd could be giving someone leukemia.

The degree to which this sounds like problems we have in computer security is...unsettling. Cancer as rootkit. Phear.
posted by effugas at 2:05 AM on May 19, 2006


Tom Freidman said it would be only six months (at a time.)
posted by nofundy at 5:12 AM on May 19, 2006


Actually, lung cancer is not the big one. Heart disease is the big one. Smoking kills more people by causing heart disease (e.g., 'heart attack') than by causing lung or other cancers.

Well, Slithy_Tove beat me to it, but yes -- cancer is far overshadowed by heart disease in the "detriments of smoking" arena.

By raising your blood pressure (and keeping it high) smoking puts a terrible strain on your heart.
posted by kaseijin at 7:42 AM on May 19, 2006


The problem with focusing exclusivly on prevention is that, while there are things you can do to minimize your risk, at some point you're running a race against entropy. Sooner or later you will loose.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:38 AM on May 19, 2006


This is sounds like utter bullshit. Don't swallow it.

Revisit this thread "in five years" and learn a lesson about the sociology of science.
posted by shoos at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2006


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