Cancer: A Perspective
What is cancer and what’s the best way to treat it?
These are basic, fundamental questions that demand meaningful answers especially if you have or know someone with cancer.
On one literal level it is possible to define cancer cells as having limitless replicative potential, which is a fancy way of saying that, unlike normal cells, cancer cells don’t die; under the right conditions they are immortal. In 1951 a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center grew up cells from a young black woman with cervical cancer named Henrietta Lacks—cells that are still alive and in use today under the name HeLa cells, short for Henrietta Lacks—proof positive that cancer is immortal.
The quest for immortality starts in response to widespread bodily and cellular DNA damage from multiple risk factors, such as exposure to radiation or free radicals, which threatens the integrity of the whole organism in which the cells reside; in the event that neither cell repair or cell death occur after DNA damage, then a primitive failsafe is activated (Plan C for cancer), which commands the cancer cell to abandon the sinking ship of the organism and survive at all costs.
Cancer cells may be tougher and hardier than their normal counterparts, which provides them with an advantage, but their long-term survival in an increasingly hostile environment (especially when chemotherapy is started) critically depends on the ability to quickly reprogram and adapt their metabolism and to silence the expression of particular genes, called tumor suppressor genes, which may lead to cancer cell death.
The problem with conventional chemotherapy is that it only kills rapidly dividing cells, which include cancer cells and normal cells, without affecting these gene-silencing events and, hence, in most cases, chemotherapy is not only toxic but eventually fails; in contrast, therapies like RRx-001, are able to reverse the silencing of these beneficial genes through a process called epigenetic modulation, which deprograms the tumor back to its original state, making it more vulnerable, and resensitizing it to chemotherapies that have been tried and failed. An unwritten law in oncology states that resistance to chemotherapy is usually permanent, so the ability to make tumors respond to chemotherapy again with RRx-001, has the potential to turn cancer into a chronic disease like diabetes, arthritis or HIV that is controllable with medications.
So let’s return to the questions in the title: what is cancer and what’s the best way to treat it? As to the first, what is cancer, the answer is that it is the cellular embodiment of immortality, which it unfortunately it often achieves at our expense.
As to the last question, what’s the best way to treat cancer, consider the biased source, us, but RRx-001, the lead epigenetic compound in the EpicentRx portfolio, currently in multiple Phase 2 clinical trials, may be a great place to start.