There have been regular breakthroughs in our understanding of cancer, but little progress in its treatment. Modern research into cancer began in the 1940’s and 50’s when scientists isolated substances that killed cancer cells growing in a petri dish, or leukaemia cells in laboratory mice. Early successes in chemotherapy set the pace and received much media exposure, even though they only applied to 5% of cancer treatments at most.
Serving humanity by solving its major diseases has a celebrity status, there is a lot of kudos and an air of Hollywood involved in such things. Cancer research is high profile activity and every now and then a scientific treatment is discovered that gains wide recognition, such as the HPV-16 trial, but it only applies itself to the treatment of a small percentage of cancers. Mass-media hype is part of the problem of how we see cancer. Early discoveries set up an expectation that there was a cure-all treatment, a ‘magic bullet’ that would make its discoverer famous by curing cancer across the world. The idea stems in part from aspirin, the original bullet that magically finds its way to the pain and diminishes it. Even now boasts of ‘paradigm shifts’ in orthodox cancer care are exaggerated.
In the 1950’s and 60’s huge and expensive research projects were set up to test every known substance to see if it effected cancer cells. You might remember the discovery of the Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharansus Roseus), which revealed alkaloids (vinblastine and vincristine) that are still used in chemotherapy today. Taxol, a treatment for ovarian and breast cancer originally came from the Pacific Yew tree. A treatment for testicular cancer and small-cell lung cancer called ‘Etoposide’ was derived from the May apple. In ‘Plants Used Against Cancer’ by Jonathan Hartwell over 3,000 plants are identified from medical and folklore sources for treating cancer, about half of which have been shown to have some effect on cancer cells in a test tube.
When these plants are made into synthetic drugs, single chemicals are isolated and the rest of the plant is usually thrown away. The medicinally active molecules are extracted from the plant and modified until they are chemically unique. Then the compound is patented, given a brand name and tested.
In the first phase it will generally be tested on animals, the second phase will decide dosage levels and in phase 3 it is tested on people. By the time it is approved by the Federal Drugs Authority (in U.S.A.) or the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Agency (M.H.R.A.) in Britain, the development costs for a new drug can reach five hundred million dollars, which eventually has to be recouped from the consumer.
In addition to ‘treatment directed’ research such as finding chemicals that effect cancer cells, basic research continues apace, into differences between normal and cancerous cells. In the last 30 years this research has revealed much about our nature, but still no cure. Below are some current strands of scientific research into cancer. dog dewormer cancer