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A New Approach to Curing Cancer Appears to be Working

By codepoet in News
Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 11:56:45 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

NOVA, a production of PBS affiliate WGBH (Boston), recently produced an episode about a potential cure for cancer, entitled Cancer Warriors. The story is about an entirely new way to cure cancer: remove the blood supply to the tumor. It's in clinical trials after an incredible success in mice and rabbits.

A short summary of how this works is that Dr. Judah Folkman discovered that tumors release a hormone that causes blood vessels to grow towards it; this is called angiogenesis. Later, because of his research, it was discovered that there are cells that do the reverse; they release a hormone to keep blood vessels away from them. The final result is that Folkman and others created a new drug that will stop blood vessels from growing, and, thus, from growing into the tumors.

The video starts at the beginning of his career and works through his life while talking about the various steps that caused him to come to the final conclusion that he did. I don't think I could possibly do this information justice, so I would suggest viewing the video or browsing the site for more information. What I can say is that while the animal studies worked, the human studies are not as successful. The drug would stop cancer completely in smaller animals, but has only been successful at stalling smaller tumors in humans; the larger tumors keep growing.

The good news is that there are now about six companies in clinical trials for this method of drug which, if successful, would stop cancer completely when discovered in the first few years of growth.


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How far away do you think a complete cure for cancers is?
o Within 5 years 9%
o 5-10 years 23%
o 10-20 years 34%
o 20-50 years 22%
o More than 50 years 9%

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A New Approach to Curing Cancer Appears to be Working | 21 comments (18 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Great medically, not so hot scientifically (4.00 / 2) (#1)
by DesiredUsername on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 08:34:48 PM EST

A cure for cancer would be a very very good thing. And if *I* (or someone I knew) had cancer, I'd certainly take this therapy (assuming it pans out).

But I can't help thinking it's a kludge. It's not really curing cancer. I mean, imagine you had a few bad sectors on your hard drive that destroys a file. You create a script that recreates the file on another partition with a symlink from the old spot. Is the script a "cure" for bad sectors?

Of course the method is scientifically interesting in it's own right. To this non-medical layperson it sounds like a breakthrough in understanding how the body works. And it DOES make the cancer go away. I guess it's just a question of semantics--what does it mean to "cure" a disease as opposed to "treating" it (or it's symptoms)?

Play 囲碁
Basically correct (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by codepoet on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 08:39:28 PM EST

You're basically right; it's not a cure. The cancers that exist will keep on existing, and blood vessels that have already grown will stay, but the fact is that no new cancer will grow (this much happened in the clinical trials) and the smaller ones will die off. I do mean small, however, as in multiple-celled cancers, not full, visible tumors.

However, it is a step, and an interesting one at that. The film hints that this medicine would work for arthritis and other diseases that blood vessel growth is involved in, so it's not just cancer, but that's what it was developed for.

-- The cynical can often see the sinister aspect of a cup of coffee if given enough time.
[ Parent ]

Semantics (4.00 / 2) (#5)
by jabber on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 08:49:02 PM EST

Yeah, technically, we're not 'curing' cancer, but killing an already existing tumor. The important fact is that, if it works, it can stop a tumor in it's tracks. Hell, maybe a smart enough drug can be made so that it becomes a vaccine - ever present but only active in the presence of Cancer. Another good reason for genetic research, if it can yield livers or adrenals that secrete this sort of smart drug.

Does it really matter whether you have a self-healing, immune or workaround-enabled disk? I don't think so, as long as it doesn't cost you time or data.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Vaccine??? (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by MarkCC on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 03:10:43 PM EST

Two quick comments.

  1. The difference between a drug and a vaccine is huge. A vaccine is a way of triggering the immune system to attack something. A drug cannot be made into a vaccine.
  2. Making this an intrinsic part of how our bodies work would have horrific effects. There are plenty of places where genuine angiogenesis is important. Consider, for example, what would happen during pregnancy if you couldn't create new blood vessels. Even if you could someone stop this from affecting the fetus's development of blood vessels, it would inhibit the production of blood vessels for the placenta.

[ Parent ]
Please reread my post. (none / 0) (#20)
by jabber on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 05:36:05 PM EST

I specifically made the point that the drug would be inactive, except in the presence of cancer. If the (conditional or on-demand) secretion of the drug was made part of our system then it would be, effectively, a natural immunity, and hence a vaccine. No?

But then again, since this is all hypothetical, what's the point of argument?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Well... (4.25 / 4) (#8)
by cameldrv on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 09:28:19 PM EST

I guess it's like winning the war by cutting off the enemy's supply line. It's still winning if they surrender even if you never meet them on the field of battle.

[ Parent ]
That's just a silly quibble (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by MarkCC on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 03:05:39 PM EST

Come on, you're really just quibbling here.

What does it mean to cure cancer? It means to kill the cancer cells. This treatment, for many kinds of cancer, has been able to eradicate tumors. Yes, it's an indirect method, but if it kills the cancer, I can't see it being any less of a cure.

Actually, it just struck me that you might be considering the cases where it doesn't kill the tumor, but prevents it from growing. The prevailing theory, as I understand it, is that those cases will be relatively rare. By the nature of cancer, the cells reproduce rapidly, to the exclusion of all else. This treatment deprives them of their blood supply. Because the nature of a tumor is to be constantly changing, it requires that the blood vessels feeding it constantly adapt. By preventing angiogenesis, this treatment does not just prevent new growth, but very frequently kills existing tumors.

It's not a complete cure for everything on its own. But it's an utterly amazing step forwards. Don't diminish its impact by playing definitional games!

[ Parent ]

If you lack QuickTime... (5.00 / 2) (#2)
by codepoet on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 08:35:42 PM EST

For those of you without QuickTime and/or a fast connection, the meaty parts of the interviews with Dr. Folkman are also at the site. It goes into almost as much detail as the film (not quite everything) about the method the medicine takes.

-- The cynical can often see the sinister aspect of a cup of coffee if given enough time.
Interesting concept (4.00 / 3) (#6)
by onyxruby on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 09:18:49 PM EST

I wonder how this works without killing off the sorrounding tissue as well? I don't think this qaulifies as a cure per se, but it has great potential. Nice write up.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.

*New* blood vessels. (none / 0) (#7)
by codepoet on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 09:20:36 PM EST

The way it works is that it stops new blood vessels from growing. Unless we're bruised or otherwise injured, new vessels are typically not growing, so this causes no problems for areas that already have blood going to them.

-- The cynical can often see the sinister aspect of a cup of coffee if given enough time.
[ Parent ]
kinda old news... (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by rebelcool on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 10:45:29 PM EST

unfortunately, this type of cure can't be used for women who are of birth-giving age.

One of the popular drugs for doing this is the same one that was used for morning sickness back in the 1970's (I cant remember the name) but was taken off the market for the horrifying birth defects it would cause. The reason: it stopped blood vessel growth in fetuses.

So while it is somewhat useful, its not a very good cure since it somewhat haphhazardly attempts to starve the tumor.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Thalidomide (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by mindstrm on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 07:25:10 AM EST

Is it thalidomide the one you are thinking of? I recall it was used in the prevention of morning sickness, and caused horrific birth defects.

[ Parent ]
It was the initial drug. (none / 0) (#14)
by codepoet on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 11:29:39 AM EST

In fact, it was one of the first drugs they tried and, while successful at helping with cancer, it caused really bad side effects and was stopped. But that meant that the idea was sound and they went looking for other stuff that did the same thing.

-- The cynical can often see the sinister aspect of a cup of coffee if given enough time.
[ Parent ]
Thalidomide (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by Frito KAL on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 09:27:34 AM EST

I believe thalidomide only affects the woman is she is pregant WHILE she takes it.

So it would not be useful for women who are having children/pregnant when they are being treated for cancer -- but then, neither is chemo.

No loss, no gain *THERE*.

However -- if this is One More Tool in the fight against cancer -- great. Even if it only helps 5% -- that's still someone's mom, or husband or son or sister that gets to live longer.

[ Parent ]
safety (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by rebelcool on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 11:44:19 AM EST

you probably know of those drug warnings that say "this must not be taken by women who are or may become pregnant". As a safety margin (and considering the really really bad effects the drug caused) its generally restricted to older women. I don't know if they use it in men, since the report i read about it in was discussing breast cancer.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Seen those. (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by Frito KAL on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 02:19:15 PM EST

*in general* that means "With child" or "Not on birth control and having the nookie"

Not "single woman who's not gettin' any and is on the pill to boot."

If you are TRYING to get pregnant, already pregnant, or at risk of getting pregnant -- you don't take those medicines.

If you are low-risk, sterile, fixed, or on birth control -- or just not having sex-- you usually can take them.

I'd give up sex for a year, 2 years, 5 years -- if it meant I'd survive cancer. Wouldn't you?

[ Parent ]
Thalidomide (none / 0) (#21)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 12:05:24 PM EST

Late 50's to early 60's (luckily for me, a '59 model, my mother's never been much for taking pills)

[ Parent ]
Well, nice idea for an article... (5.00 / 3) (#16)
by ponos on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 01:04:10 PM EST

I have been following up current research on
cancer angiogenesis and I am happy to see that
this writeup made it to kuro5hin.

I would like to clarify a few points that
will make the importance of these discoveries

a) Low expected side effects (angiogenesis is
relatively rare in the adult and its disruption
is not expected to have a devastating effect,
like cyto-static or cyto-toxic therapy).
Compare this to the effects of radiation,
crippling major surgery and ultra-strong
b) Expected degree of resistance is much less.
Many cancers (e.g. renal cancer) are resistant
to chemotherapy and even radiation.
c) Can be administered indefinitely and will
have a >synergic< effect with traditional
d) WILL cause the regression of existing cancer
blood vessels. (vasculature is changing
dynamically in response to these factors)

a) Will not work for leukemia and other non-solid
tumours (had to remind you!)
b) Might be administered for life to keep cancer
cells dormant (imagine taking pills for 20
c) Not sufficiently tested - serious problems
may arise.

Finally, I must remind you that the "cure" for
cancer is not absolute, rather it is relative
to the LIFE EXPECTANCY of the individual. In that
sense, if someone happens to have cancer at age
70 and then lives until age 80 he is considered
"cured" by medical standards. Today many cancers
have a prognosis of roughly 3 years (the
standard value used in prognostic estimation
is 5-year survival and it ranges between 5 %
and 95 % of patients). Given that most cancers
occur at later ages you see that an increase of
5-year or 10-year survival from 20% to 60% will
mean, in practice, that the individuals will not
die of cancer (but from stroke, heart failure etc)
Such a change will possibly earn a Nobel prize :-)

Also, bear in mind that a change in life quality
is also important to these patients and
a 5-year survival WITH your lung is better than
5-year survival WITHOUT your lung.

All these changes make the "cure" for cancer an
everyday struggle that is won slowly by increasing
survival rates, reducing costs, reducing adverse
effects etc. Do not expect a magic pill that
will suddenly heal people. Theoretically speaking
the cure would be to stop DNA damage. I can't
see this happening soon.

-- Sum of Intelligence constant. Population increasing.
A New Approach to Curing Cancer Appears to be Working | 21 comments (18 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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