Friday, September 12, 2008

Article in The Economist

There's an article entitled: "Cancer stem cells: The root of all evil?" in The Economist, September 11, 2008. (Thanks to Lisa Willemse, who saw it).

It's an overview of research on cancer stem cells. The last two paragraphs:
If the safety issues can be dealt with—and most researchers think they can—then attacking cancer stem cells really could help patients survive. If, that is, the stem-cell hypothesis is correct.

At the moment, scientists being scientists, few are willing to be anything other than cautious. They have seen too many past cures for cancer vanish in a puff of smoke. The proof needs to come from patients—preferably with them living longer. But if the stem-cell hypothesis is indeed shown to be correct, it will have the great virtue of unifying and simplifying the understanding of what cancer is. And that alone is reason for hope.
Links are also provided, in a frame to the right of the main text, to webpages about scientists named in the article. They are (with links to the webpages used by The Economist): John Dick, Michael Clarke and Max Wicha, Jeremy Rich, William Matsui, Jenny Chang, Robert Weinberg and Craig Jordan.

Added September 13, 2008:

See also "Medicine: Shooting down cancer", The Economist, September 11, 2008. The last two paragraphs:
Like natural selection and germs, the discovery of cancer stem cells illustrates how the most fruitful scientific findings are often not those of individual experiments, however intriguing, but those that organise knowledge into theory. The chemical industry took off within a decade or so of Dmitri Mendeleev’s arrangement of the chemical elements into the periodic table, just as radio communications followed James Clerk Maxwell’s mathematical unification of electricity and magnetism, and antibiotics came after Pasteur and Koch.

With luck, something similar will soon happen in biology in the wake of such things as the Human Genome Project. In retrospect, the discovery of stem cells—cancer stem cells included—may come to be seen as a step in a comprehensive theory of how organisms work. That understanding would be a formidable, if unforeseen, part of the legacy of the war on cancer and an essential part of its mission to save lives.

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