Thursday, May 19, 2011

A little fun

Pass this around, if you're so inclined.

My response to "Scientists cure cancer, but no one takes notice"

I stole this
According to my friends on Facebook, we've cured cancer. Not only that, but nobody took notice. Except for everyone that's on Facebook.

I've barely read the article, and am naturally skeptical about it, but I want to give it a closer look. I figured I would write this blog post while I gave it this look.

(I open the link)

The first thing I notice is the nice HubPages banner across the top. This is not a step in the right direction. Hubpages is one of the many websites where anyone can write anything, and the layout of the site makes it look legit. Some of the articles are legit, of course. You can't forget, though, that I could get on right now, and write an article called, "Guinea Pigs Beat Humans to Mars!" and have it up within an hour. What the Hubpages banner tells me is that one man (cqull8m) is responsible for this article, and he's not backed up by editors, fact-checkers, or anyone else that makes you more confident about the information you read. Like me, I guess.

So far not good. I'll now read the article.

There are two links close to the top. The one that's supposed to link to a "little ripple in the news" takes me to "studentprintz.com." It takes me to the homepage, rather than an article. I typed "cancer" into the search bar, and it's currently trying to load my request.

I now realize that the original article that was linked to is now a 404. Let's keep moving.

"Canadian scientists tested this dichloroacetate (DCA) on human’s cells... It was tested on Rats...The drug is widely available and the technique is easy to use"

Two things come to mind. Firstly, this is like saying, "This has never been tested on humans," except it's worse than saying that. It's avoiding saying that. It's hiding information between the lines. I also wonder if people who take this drug for metabolic disorders (as noted in paragraph 2) are cancer-proof. Let's see if any of this is answered in the rest of the article.

"In human bodies there is a natural cancer fighting human cell, the mitochondria, but they need to be triggered to be effective."

Red alert! Red alert! He called the mitochondria a cell! That's like calling a kidney a human. The mitochondria is a part of the cell. I remember this stuff from middle-school science. I don't know much about mitochondria, but I know at least that much. I will tread carefully through the rest of this article.

"Scientists used to think that these mitochondria cells were damaged and thus ineffective against cancer."

Random image of cells
Scientists thought that mitochondria were damaged? All of them? What in the world is this supposed to mean?

"You can access the original research for this cancer here."

Thank goodness! I suddenly like this guy a lot more. I will do just as he suggests, and look at the original research. Let's finish this article first, though.

"This article wants to raise awareness for this study"

Mission accomplished. This article has overtaken my newsfeed like malignant cells.

"hope some independent companies and small startup will pick up this idea and produce these drugs"

I thought this was an existing drug that is already used for metabolic disorders.

So, most of my gripes in this article are with low-quality writing, and a misunderstanding of the facts. I can't hate on this author though. Like he said, I believe he's just trying to spread the news, and if someone isn't a good writer/researcher, and doesn't have the money to hire a freelance writer, at least he tried. And succeeded.

So let's get to the meat of this. The research. (I click the link)

I was hoping this would link to a horribly dry scientific paper. The kind of scientific paper that can make an anti-gravity device sound as exciting as a new type of foam-rubber. That's not quite what I found. This format is a little more like a blog post.

Condensed:

"DCA is an odourless, colourless, inexpensive, relatively non-toxic, small molecule... causes regression in several cancers... [used] to treat children with inborn errors of metabolism due to mitochondrial diseases... [mitochondria] have been connected with cancer since the 1930s... [DCA] as a way to "revive" cancer-affected mitochondria... mitochondrial function resulted in a significant decrease in tumor growth... [DCA] did not have any effects on normal, non-cancerous tissues... However, as DCA is not patented, Michelakis is concerned that it may be difficult to find funding from private investors to test DCA in clinical trials... launch clinical trials on humans in the spring of 2007 pending government approval."

This is very, very interesting. Basically, this existing drug revives the cells' mitochondria, and the mitochondria of the cancer cells kills them.

One of the main themes of the Hubpages article is that nobody took notice of this discovery. I'll test this by Googling "DCA" with "Cancer."

2007, ABC NEWS, "DCA: Cancer Breakthrough or Urban Legend"
2007, Toronto Star, "Molecule Holds Cancer Hope"
2007, CTV News, "Health Canada approves first human trials for DCA"
2007, Newsweek, "A New Way to Fight Cancer?"

I could keep going, but it's painfully boring. Let's just say that the media did take notice. More research needs to be done, but it seems to be in the same pipeline that any drug goes through on the way to becoming something that the pharmacists push at us.

Whether DCA is a wonder drug, I don't know. Let's give it some time, and let results come in. I think a more important question is, since it is an existing pharmaceutical, should cancer patients buy the stuff online and self-treat? There are anecdotes online from people who claim to have done just this.

The easy answer is no. Taking drugs without your doctor's approval is like playing Russian Roulette. Hell, taking drugs with your doctor's approval can be like Russian Roulette. DCA does have side-effects, which sometimes include nerve-damage. Self-prescribing and self-treating illnesses is a reckless move, and one that many people have regretted over the years.

But let's cut the bullshit.

It's fine to be afraid of nerve damage if you've got a sty, or acid reflux disease. That's when you need to sweat over the side-effects. When you have a tumor in your brain, though, or in your lungs, and it's growing like a snowball rolling down a hill, and you're not supposed to be alive by your next birthday, caution can be fatal. It's easy for the authorities to tell you to wait for the clinical trials, because they don't know you, and, in their eyes, people die of cancer every day. But you only get to die once, and then you're out of chances. No more pizzas, no more smiles from attractive strangers, no more petting kittens. No more peeing or breathing or sleeping in.

I have an uninsured friend with brain cancer, and if he started popping these pills, or snorting them, or shooting them up, I wouldn't even say a word that rhymes with caution anywhere near him. At some point, what was reckless becomes reasonable. At some point, you've got to jump out of the burning building, even if you might break your leg.

I would do it. I would do it and I would blog about it.

Further reading

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dream Precognition Test

I'm participating in a dream precognition study. If this is interesting to you, email mvalasek@staffmail.ed.ac.uk and see if they have any more slots open.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My reaction to the Geek Zodiac

A couple of Facebook friends posted the Geek Zodiac. Being that I'm 1/4 geek by birth, I checked it out. What was my reaction?

"Astronaut! I knew it!"

Looking at my own reaction, only a few seconds after the fact, I couldn't help but be amused. Putting stock in a "normal" zodiac, the one that's primarily used today, in the United States, is one thing. It's been around for a while, and there are whole books and websites out there that preach the word, wholeheartedly. Believing in that is generally viewed as a normal thing to do.

But to look at something that a couple of guys made over a weekend, and to say, "It makes so much sense now!"... Well, that's just absurd. And that's what I did, for the better part of a second.

Even if you love, say, horoscopes, yourself, you should be able to admit that, even if horoscopes were actually just motivational messages that applied, not to people born on a specific date, but to human beings in general, they would still be popular. People would still follow them. Look at mine for today:

"You might be surprised by how clever and creative you are today, Capricorn. Just for fun, you may decide to pick up a paintbrush and try watercolor painting or perhaps writing some poetry. Whatever you attempt, you can be fairly sure that it will work out favorably. Your creative muse is there on your shoulder and waiting for you to make use of her!"

I'm not a painter, at all, but if I was into horoscopes I might take this advice, and it might be fun, and I might approach it with more confidence than I would without the stars backing me up. Nothing wrong with watercolors. But it would be the same outcome whether I was Capricorn, Aquarius, or Cancer! When I was a more avid blogger I used to put a daily all-signs horoscope in the sidebar.

I don't feel like making a real point with today's post, so let's just watch a video:

I just spent about twenty minutes looking for a certain video, and instead got sidetracked and ended up learning new magic tricks for the kiddos. Oh, well. We can go without closure for one post.