Scientist James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, and long-time cancer researcher is criticizing the government cancer establishment in a new paper published in the scientific journal Open Biology. Cancer mortality rates in the United States are declining but this is due to the fact that fewer people are smoking, not the invention of new cancer therapies.
James Watson believes that the $100 million US project to understand the DNA changes that drive nine forms of cancer is “not likely to produce the truly breakthrough drugs that we now so desperately need.” James Watson spoke to Reuters in a rare interview:
“These new [cancer] therapies work for just a few months. And we have nothing for major cancers such as the lung, colon and breast that have become metastatic.”
James Watson is even attacking the now popular idea that the antioxidants contained in exotic berries promote health and thus fight cancer:
“The time has come to seriously ask whether antioxidant use much more likely causes than prevents cancer. Everyone thought antioxidants were great. But I’m saying they can prevent us from killing cancer cells.”
Reuters explains what antioxidants and metastatic cancers have in common:
“One such commonality is oxygen radicals. Those forms of oxygen rip apart other components of cells, such as DNA. That is why antioxidants, which have become near-ubiquitous additives in grocery foods from snack bars to soda, are thought to be healthful: they mop up damaging oxygen radicals.
“That simple picture becomes more complicated, however, once cancer is present. Radiation therapy and many chemotherapies kill cancer cells by generating oxygen radicals, which trigger cell suicide. If a cancer patient is binging on berries and other antioxidants, it can actually keep therapies from working.
“Research backs him up. A number of studies have shown that taking antioxidants such as vitamin E do not reduce the risk of cancer but can actually increase it, and can even shorten life. But drugs that block antioxidants – “anti-antioxidants” – might make even existing cancer drugs more effective.”
One eminent cancer biologist spoke to Reuters and gave James Watson’s paper a mixed review, but he asked not to be identified so as not to offend Watson:
“There are a lot of interesting ideas in it, some of them sustainable by existing evidence, others that simply conflict with well-documented findings. As is often the case, he’s stirring the pot, most likely in a very productive way.”
According to io9, James Watson also recommends researching a class of proteins called RNAi, which can be used to shut down the activity of genes. Watson believes this approach is feasible and may win the war on cancer:
“The total sum of money required for RNAi methodologies to reveal the remaining major molecular targets for future anti-cancer drug development need not be more than 500–1000 million dollars. … The main factor holding us back from overcoming most of metastatic cancer over the next decade may soon no longer be lack of knowledge but our world’s increasing failure to intelligently direct its ‘monetary might’ towards more human-society-benefiting directions.”
Perhaps this is a bit controversial, but it sounds like James Watson is saying the cancer establishment is needlessly directing its efforts toward goals that will not cure cancer but instead just treat the symptoms further. What do you think?