A Cure For Cancer? Probably Not!

Cancer cells from human connective tissue (click for credit)

I started seeing it on my Facebook feed Tuesday. I started getting messages about it on Wednesday. It’s a news story of great interest to many people, and the headline says it all:

A CURE FOR CANCER? ISRAELI SCIENTISTS SAY THEY THINK THEY FOUND ONE

The news outlet that published the story is the Jerusalem Post. After it was published there on Monday, U.S. news outlets picked up the story. I suspect that nearly everyone in the U.S. knows someone who has been afflicted with some form of cancer, so the interest is understandable. The problem is that the story is almost certainly not true.

As far as I know, the Jerusalem Post is a credible news organization. Also, the people who have made the claim (Dan D. Aridor and Dr. Ilan Morad ) are credible people. Nevertheless, the claims are not credible, especially when you investigate them.

Aridor and Morad say that they are using “phage display” technologies to target proteins that are typically produced by cancer cells. This allows them to eliminate cancer cells without affecting healthy ones. This is already an active area of cancer treatment research, so the technique is a valid one. They claim that they have a special variation on the technique that will allow them to offer “a complete cure for cancer” within a year or so. If that sounds too good to be true, it probably is – especially when you see what the claim is based on.

Essentially, they say they have tested their technique on mice, and it works very well. Unfortunately, they have not published their results, so it is hard to know what that really means. They claim they don’t want to spend their time and money on writing up a publication. Instead, they want to concentrate on the research necessary to perfect the technique. That is understandable, and they might also be afraid that others could use their publication to “copy” their technique and beat them to the punch.

So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that they tested their technique on mice, and it was found to completely eliminate specific types of cancer in mice with no discernible side effects. That still doesn’t mean it will work in people! The gap between animal studies and human studies is huge, which is why many treatments that worked incredibly well in animals do very poorly when used to treat people. Now, of course, it makes sense to test a treatment on animals first, but to claim that a technique can go from early animal trials to human treatment in a year is naive, at best.

Also, to make a blanket statement that it will be “a complete cure for cancer” is silly, since there are so many different forms of cancer. It’s possible that their technique might be a great cure for some forms of cancer, but the idea that it will treat all (or even most) forms of cancer seems shockingly inconsistent with what we know about the nature of cancer itself.

Of course, no one will be happier than me if I am wrong. I have had skin cancer removed, and my wife recently had a cancerous breast tumor removed. Thus, a cure for cancer would clearly make me very happy. Nevertheless, I don’t think there will be one within a year, and even if there is one, I suspect that it will only be able to treat specific types of cancer.

LED Lights Might Pose A Hazard for Vision

Wavelengths coming from various light sources (image modified from the Tosini 2016 article linked below)
A very good friend showed me an article from the University of Toledo. It reports on a study that demonstrates how blue light might be damaging to the light-sensing cells found in your eye. I didn’t know anything about this, so I decided to look into the research that has been done on the effects of blue light on vision. I found this excellent review article, which discusses what has been figured out so far. The short answer is that we don’t know anything for certain, but there is some evidence that long-term, chronic exposure to significant amounts of blue light could be damaging to your eyes.

Several animal studies have shown that exposure to blue light can increase the animal’s risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other eye problems. However, studies on people haven’t been clear. Some studies have shown a relationship between long-term exposure to the sun’s light and AMD, and it is assumed that the blue light given out by the sun is the culprit. However, a case-controlled study in Australia indicated that it might not be exposure to the sun’s light that is causing the relationship. It indicates that sensitivity to glare and difficulty developing a tan are the actual indicators of higher AMD risk, and studies that show a relationship between the sun’s light and AMD might not be controlling properly for those variables.

The study that was discussed in the University of Toledo article linked above didn’t assess the damage blue light causes to human eyes. Instead, the authors assessed the damage on human cells. However, they didn’t use actual light-sensing cells from a human eye, because that’s not possible. They used HeLa cells, which are a line of cells that came from cancerous tissue taken from a woman named Henrietta Lacks more than 65 years ago. The cells continue to reproduce to this day, so this line of cells is often referred to as “immortal.” The story behind the acquisition of the cells is the topic of a very sad and interesting book as well as a pretty lousy movie.

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A New Feature in the Human Body Has Been Discovered!

Schematic of the newly-found human anatomical feature (Illustration by Jill Gregory licenced under CC-BY-ND – click for more information)

In one of my online biology classes last week, a student asked if I had any comments on the new organ that was just discovered in the human body. I didn’t have any comments, because I didn’t know anything about it. I expressed a lot of skepticism, saying that with all the imaging techniques available to scientists, it’s hard to imagine that an organ in the human body has been missed. However, I promised the student I would look into it, and while I hesitate to call it a new organ, it turns out that a new feature of the human body has most certainly been discovered!

You can read about it in the open-access article published by Scientific Reports. As shown in the illustration above, the researchers found that wherever tissues are stretched or compressed (like the lungs or even the intestines), there is a network of fluid-filled spaces underneath. In the illustration above, think of the part labeled “Mucosa” as the lining of an organ. Underneath that lining, there is a mesh of collagen proteins and elastin proteins (elastin is a part of the “collagen bundle” in the illustration). Those proteins have specific cells attached to them that react to CD34, a stain used to highlight a feature of certain cells when they are viewed under a microscope. In between this mesh of proteins and cells, the spaces are filled with fluid.

For a long time, anatomists have understood that there is a lot of fluid in between the cells of an organism. It is called “interstitial fluid,” and it makes up about 16% of the human body’s weight. It bathes the cells, keeping their environment reasonably constant and serving as way that cells can exchange chemicals with the rest of the body. It comes from the blood, and then it drains into the lymphatic system, where it is cleaned and returned to the blood. So the fluid found in those spaces is not new. The fact that the fluid is found in a mesh of proteins and cells and forms the sponge-like structure illustrated above was completely unknown up to this point.

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More Evidence that A Baby in the Womb is Fully Human

Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)
Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)

Dr. Jerome L. LeJeune was the brilliant geneticist who first demonstrated that there is a link between certain diseases and corresponding chromosomal abnormalities. While testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in 1989, he said:

To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a matter of metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.

Almost thirty years have passed since he made this statement, and the scientific evidence continues to support it.

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote about a study of twins in the womb. The study indicated that social interaction takes place prior to birth when the opportunity arises. Later on, I wrote about another study that indicates that if our understanding of brain networks is correct, babies actually think about the future while in the womb!

I recently learned about a new study that adds even more evidence to the ever-growing pile which indicates that babies are fully human while they are inside the womb.

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What Happens to the Mind When the Body Can’t Communicate?

A version of the brain/computer interface cap used in the study (click for credit)
A version of the brain/computer interface cap used in the study (click for credit)

More than five years ago, I sat by a hospital bed where my Aunt Kay lay dying. Unlike my father, she was completely uncommunicative on her deathbed. She never made any purposeful physical movements, and despite repeated requests, she never indicated that she was aware of what was going on around her. I remember sitting there wondering whether or not she was “in there.” Was she able to hear the words of love people were sharing with her, or was she, for all intents and purposes, already gone? While I am here on this earth, I will never have the answer to that question, but a recent scientific paper indicates that in at least some cases, completely uncommunicative people really are still “in there.”

In this case, the study was done on four patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Their cases are so severe that they are described as being in a complete locked-in state. This means that they cannot make any voluntary movements at all. They can’t even move their eyes. As a result, they have no way of letting others know what they think or feel. One of the patients had been unable to reliably communicate with anyone for six years prior to the study. Two of them had been in a similar uncommunicative state for two years, and one of them for several months.

The researchers outfitted each of the patients with a cap similar to the one pictured above. It could communicate with a computer that recorded measurements related to the physical workings of their brains. The researchers then instructed the patients that they would be asked several yes/no questions over the course of the study. Some would have answers that could be verified. Some would be “open” questions for which only the patient knew the answer. The patients were asked to strongly think “yes” or “no” (actually, “ja” or “nein” since the study was done in Germany) in response to each question. They were specifically told not to “picture” their response. They were told to only think it.

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Evolutionists Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong About Antibiotic Resistance

A colony of bacteria similar to the one analyzed in the study being discussed.  (click for credit)
A colony of bacteria similar to the one analyzed in the study being discussed. (click for credit)
Back when I went to university, I was taught (as definitive fact) that bacteria evolved resistance to antibiotics as a result of the production of antibiotics. This was, of course, undeniable evidence for the fact that new genes can arise through a process of mutation and natural selection. Like most evolution-inspired ideas, however, the more we learned about antibiotic resistance in bacteria, the more we learned that there was a problem. It turns out that some cases of antibiotic resistance in bacteria were not caused by antibiotic-resistant genes. Instead, they were caused by the deterioration of genes that exist for other purposes. For example, the Anthrax bacterium can develop resistance to a class of antibiotics called quinolones, but it is the result of a mutation that degrades the gene that produces gyrase, the enzyme that those antibiotics attack. This allows the bacterium to survive the antibiotic, but the degraded gyrase gene causes the bacterium to reproduce much more slowly.

There are, however, specific genes found in bacteria that do produce proteins which fight antibiotics. It was generally thought that these genes arose through mutation and natural selection in response to our development of antibiotics. However, we now know that this just isn’t true. Antibiotic-resistant genes existed long before people developed antibiotics. I first wrote about this more than five years ago, when researchers found bacterial, antibiotic-resistant genes in permafrost alongside mammoth genes. Obviously, people weren’t making antibiotics when mammoths were alive. Thus, those genes existed long before human-made antibiotics. Later, I wrote about researchers who found bacterial, antibiotic-resistant genes in fossilized feces from the Middle Ages. Once again, this shows that antibiotic-resistant genes have been around long before our development of antibiotics.

Now an even more impressive study has been released. In it, researchers analyzed the DNA of a bacterium from the genus Paenibacillus. These bacteria form colonies, such as the one shown in the image above. The colors in the image indicate the density of bacteria – the brighter the yellow color, the higher the density of bacteria. While this genus of bacteria has been found in many, many environments, the specific species analyzed in the study was special: it has been living in a cave that has been isolated from the modern world. In fact, the cave is so isolated that no animals had ever ventured into it. When the researchers analyzed the DNA of this bacterium, they found all sorts of antibiotic-resistant genes.

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Radiation Probably Did Harm the Apollo Astronauts

The astronaut in this Apollo 17 photo was probably harmed by the radiation to which he was exposed on his voyage.
The astronaut in this Apollo 17 photo was probably harmed by the radiation to which he was exposed on his voyage.

The earth has been magnificently designed for life. Amongst its amazing contrivances for nurturing and protecting living organisms, its magnetic field shields its surface from most of the high-energy radiation to which it is exposed. If it weren’t for this protective shield, life as we know it could not exist on earth. So what happens when people venture beyond that protective shield? A recent paper in the journal Scientific Reports attempts to answer that question by studying astronauts. While it suffers from the unavoidable weakness of using a very small group of individuals, the results presented in the paper are very interesting.

The researchers who wrote the paper examined five women and 37 men who had spent some time in space. All five women and 30 of the men experienced low-earth orbit, while seven of the men were a part of the various Apollo missions that went to the moon. These astronauts were compared to three women and 32 men who have been trained as astronauts but have never gone into space. Both of those groups were also compared to the U.S. population of the same age range. Specifically, the researchers were looking for the mortality rates among the astronauts, as well as what caused their deaths.

What they found was that the astronauts who never went into space were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and other common ailments (such as cancer) than the rest of the population in the same age range. This makes sense, since health is one of the factors used to choose astronauts, and their training keeps them healthy. However, they were more likely to die from accidents than the rest of the U.S. population. Once again, this makes sense, since being an astronaut is a dangerous line of work.

However, when the astronauts who never went into space were compared to the Apollo astronauts, there was one striking difference.

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Deer Sense the Earth’s Magnetic Field

A herd of roe deer on snow.  (Click for credit)
A herd of roe deer on snow. (Click for credit)

There are many animals that sense the earth’s magnetic field. Monarch butterflies, for example, sense the magnetic field and use it to aid in navigation during their amazing migration.1. Salmon seem to “imprint” a picture of the earth’s magnetic field at the point where they enter the ocean, and they later use that imprint to navigate back to that same point when they return to their birthplace to spawn. Homing pigeons also sense the earth’s magnetic field and use it as a part of their navigation.

Years ago, I read about a study that seemed to say cattle tend to align with the earth’s magnetic field while they graze. It perplexed many scientists, and some didn’t want to believe it. After all, cattle don’t navigate long distances! Why in the world would they need to sense the earth’s magnetic field? However, the study seemed to stand up to scrutiny. When I am speaking, I often use it as an example of experimental data that make no sense, but nevertheless seem to be true. I further suggest that rather than fighting against the conclusion of the study, someone should try to figure out why cattle seem to have a magnetic sense.

Well, no one (to my knowledge) has done that for cattle, but someone has done it for roe deer, which are pictured above. Roe deer tend to congregate in flat areas, so their herds are easy to watch from a distance. Researchers studied them in 60 different locations in three hunting grounds in the Czech Republic. They observed the way the deer faced while they were grazing and, more importantly, how the deer reacted when they were startled.

They found that the deer tend to align their bodies along north/south magnetic field lines while grazing. Then, when startled, they tend to run north or south, regardless of the direction from which the threat comes. These behaviors were more pronounced when the deer were in large herds.2

Why do the deer bother sensing the earth’s magnetic field? Based on their observations, the authors suggest:

…an important function of this behavior is to coordinate the movement in the group, to keep the common course of escape when frightened and to maintain the cohesion of the group.

In other words, it helps the deer escape without running into one another, and it helps them regroup once the threat is gone.

The authors say that this is the first confirmed case of mammals using the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. I suspect that it is merely the first of many. The more I learn about Creation, the more in awe I am of its Creator.

REFERENCES

1. Patrick A Guerra, Robert J Gegear, & Steven M Reppert, “A magnetic compass aids monarch butterfly migration,” Nature Communications 5:4164, 2014, doi:10.1038/ncomms5164
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2. Petr Obleser, Vlastimil Hart, E. Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Michaela Holá, Michael S. Painter, Jaroslav Červený, and Hynek Burda, “Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer,” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 06 June 2016, DOI:10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y
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Dirt Can Be Good For Children

This little boy may be improving his immune system. (click for credit)
This little boy may be improving his immune system. (click for credit)

There has been a noticeable rise in allergic diseases (like asthma), especially in industrialized nations.1 Several hypotheses have been suggested to account for this fact, but the one that seems to have the most evidence stacking up in its favor is the hygiene hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that many children who live in industrialized nations are raised in an environment that is just too clean. Because of this, they are not exposed to infectious agents and parasites that properly “train” their immune system. In addition, they miss out on some of the good bacteria and fungi that would take up residence in their body and support their immune system. As a result, the natural development of the immune system is stunted, and the body doesn’t know how to properly respond to certain foreign agents.

Several studies have shown a relationship between the cleanliness of a child’s environment and the child’s risk of developing an allergic disease. For example, studies have shown that children who grow up in rural settings are less likely to develop allergic diseases than those who grow up in urban settings.2 Even within rural settings, there is a difference. Children who grow up on farms seem to be the most protected against asthma and other allergic diseases.3

While there is a lot of indirect evidence for the hygiene hypothesis, a biological mechanism for why a “dirty” environment helps protect children against allergic diseases has been lacking. A recent study from Europe, however, has changed that.4

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This Study Indicates that Most Babies Should NOT Avoid Peanuts

This picture shows a person getting a skin-prick test to measure his or her allergic reactions.
This picture shows a person getting a skin-prick test to measure his or her allergic reactions.

The prevalence of peanut allergies has grown significantly in recent years. In the U.S., for example, only 0.4% of children were reported to have a peanut allergy in 1997. By 2008, the percentage had more than tripled to 1.4%.1 As a result, people have become more aware of peanut allergies, and some businesses have made accomodations for people who have them. Delta airlines, for example, says:

When you notify us that you have a peanut allergy, we’ll refrain from serving peanuts and peanut products onboard your flight. We’ll also advise cabin service to board additional non-peanut snacks, which will allow our flight attendants to serve these snack items to everyone within this area. Gate agents will be notified in case you’d like to pre-board and cleanse the immediate seating area. Unfortunately we still can’t guarantee that the flight will be completely peanut-free. Note that some snack products on board may be processed in plants which also process peanut products.

This is important, since some cases of peanut allergies have resulted in tragic deaths (see here, here, and here, for example).

Naturally, many parents would like to know if there is anything they can do to prevent their children from developing peanut allergies. In the year 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the best thing to do was to avoid peanut products for any child who showed any risk of allergy. However, the Academy reversed itself in 2008, saying there was no evidence that peanut avoidance reduced the risk of a child developing a peanut allergy later in life.2

A study released earlier this year now tells us that the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction: If you want to prevent peanut allergies in your children, you should consider exposing them to small amounts of peanut products when they are very young.3

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