Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cancer Patience

The National Cancer Institute aspires to "eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer" by 2015. Senator Arlen Specter, a 75-year old cancer patient, says that's not fast enough, and wants to know how much money it would take to meet the goal by 2010. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the National Cancer Institute has replied that an additional $4.2 billion would make "significant progress" towards narrowing the gap between 2015 and 2010.

Derek Lowe, the blogging chemist, says this is bollocks. Why? Two reasons. First, Lowe says, there is no such disease as cancer.
Cancer is actually the end result of what are probably hundreds (thousands?) of different diseases. We have confused ourselves by giving them the same category name - it's like the old-style classification of infections as various "fevers." There are many, many ways that a cell can end up with (and maintain) the deranged growth profile that we think of as cancerous, and it's going to take a lot of different treatments to do anything about them.

Second, money alone can't speed up research to any degree desired.

Although more money is always nice, thanks, there comes a point where it's not sufficient to buy you better results. In the case of the various cancers, it's for sure that there are many, many important details that we don't even know about yet. And, as usual, a good amount of the things that we do already know are going to turn out to be wrong. Time, money, intelligence, luck, and hard work are all going to have to be tossed into the pot in great quantities, and there are no other ingredients that can substitute for any of those.

Dr. Frederic Cohen addresses the issue from a pharmaceutical perspective, and agrees that the goals are not realistic.


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