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What’s the link between dinosaur evolution and cancer? It’s an odd question, but one we were faced with when Cancer Research UK scientist Professor Gerard Evan gave a fascinating talk at our head office recently.

If you want to be simultaneously intrigued, entertained and uplifted, we recommend that you take 15 minutes out of your day to watch what he had to say:

Gerard recently moved his family back to the UK from San Francisco to work as a Cancer Research UK scientist. Now based at the University of Cambridge, Gerard has dedicated the last couple decades of his life to understanding a solitary molecule called MYC.

While much of the scientific community is trying to understand the differences between each person’s cancer so that treatment can be ‘personalised’, Gerard is taking a different approach. He thinks the MYC molecule is one of a few universal master switches in cells that can be manipulated to stop or treat cancer.

During his fascinating talk, he challenged some of the common language we use when we talk about cancer, which he thinks imbues the disease with an undeserved mystery. Cancer doesn’t “thwart” or “resist” our attempts at treatment, he says, it simply blindly evolves.

We have invited several other researchers to talk about their research over the coming months. Please do let us know in the comments section below if you would like to see more of them.

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Comments

Lesley McKenzie October 8, 2012

I have just listend to the talk given by Professor Gerard Evan who has left me in tears. I never thought I’d hear someone say that his son and duaghter in their early 20’s will never have to worry about dying from cancer. My sons are similar ages and I can’t tell you how it feels to know that they will never be lost to cancer. I lost my husband to this evil disease just over a year ago. He was 52. I can’t tell you how it feels knowing these wonderful people are working so hard to benefit so many. You will always have my support

Silvia October 5, 2012

I wish he is right

Toni Heaslewood October 5, 2012

I have just listened to the speech about a new approach to treating cancer. I am a 10 year breast cancer survivor and support Cancer Researck UK. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to listen to such an inspirational man.

Paul Hembury October 4, 2012

A very fascinating and uplifting talk by Professor Evan. I see that research is, amongst other things, looking at pathways and signals and that a cancerous cell will burst or mutate I was wondering if any research has been done to look into the feasibility of quarantine to isolate a mutant cell by encircling it or binding it with a substance, so in effect you do not attempt to destroy it but merely take it out of circulation. I am not a scientist or an academic, just someone that would like to see this awful mutation stopped in its tracks.

David Adams October 4, 2012

Really great talk and my thanks go to Gerard for sharing his insights. I am thrilled and humbled that my donations are being used to fund such activities (and people). Gerard seems to have a good heart and motivated by a desire to help his fellow man; I wish all professions (and people) were driven by such philanthropic ideals. Good luck with your work, Gerard, and thank you for the message of hope. Managed to get something in my eye towards the end there…

Ray Bate September 25, 2012

Excellent and great brains dedicated to doing good things. However, we don’t try to create new ‘synthetic’ foods (except the OGM financial efforts and failures) so why do we think only of creating chemical/synthetic solutions to diseases such as cancer. Why is CR UK not supporting as a first priority the NATURAL CURES for cancer (and other diseases)? There are many people cured, including many who have been rejected by the ‘mainstream medical establishment’ as incurable, even weeks/months only to live, then cured by diverse natural methods, including those developed by the outstanding Bio-chemist, Dr.Johanna BUDWIG, based on Linseed Oil and Cottage Cheese, based on Wheatgrass, and numerous others. Why do you ignore these? Are you, too, subject to too much pressure in funding by ‘big-Pharma’.
Evidently these natural plants, etc. combine, react with or act on the cells which are not normal, in some way to stop or limit the development of cancerous cell(s) and perhaps also enabling the immune system to be ascendent.
Isn’t it worth some effort by brains like Prof. Evans?
As an example of virtually total failure of modern science and medicine, there is still NO CURE for Arthritis; but consume (blue) fish oil and you can achieve that – I and many others have.
It is blatently obvious that the dominating force in medicine today is BIG-PHARMA, and their dominating interest is to block all efforts to identify valid (cheap) natural cures which would reduce their profits – hence the continued efforts to identify patentable chemical solutions.
Ray Bate, Physicist (latest career in Space Activity)

Oliver Childs September 17, 2012

Dear Lesley,

We are very sorry to hear about your daughter’s diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Professor Evan primarily works in the lab on understanding MYC, as he believes this understanding could form the basis of future treatments for cancer. This knowledge of fundamental biology is absolutely crucial to finding new ways to tackle cancer. Unfortunately Gerard is not a clinician, and his work has not yet got to the stage of being translated into specific cancer treatments that could be used today. He, and we, truly hope it will.

But if you need to speak to someone about your daughter’s treatment, please do call one of our cancer information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040.

Best wishes to you and your daughter.

Oliver Childs
Cancer Research UK

LESLEY SHANNON September 15, 2012

As a lay person whose daughter has recently been diagnosed with advanced stage IV colorectal cancer and secondary liver mets I wish I could meet with Professor Gerard Evan. My daughter was 30 years old when diagnosed and now 31. She was diagnosed in July this year and as Professor Evans said his daughter of 22 and son of 21 do not have to worry about dying of cancer. So can he help me to help my daughter to overcome the cancer she has just been diagnosed with. I would like Professor Evan to contact me if this were possible to find out more about MYC and how he might be able to save my daughter’s precious life. A very interesting talk indeed.

Network Pharmacology Blog September 12, 2012

Very good talk & creates a fascinating contrast to the recent heated debate on functionality resulting from the ENCODE results.

His view that there are central commonalities for cancer which are generic to all or most cancers accords with the network pharmacology view & we believe will eventually lead to a switch in mainstream cancer research away from a phenospecific focus.

The issue that faces them is that in reality pathways don’t exist in terms of being responsible for driving biological function but systems do. This subtle difference is all important as the mode of action needed to treat systems has to be computed by complex system rules or it is statistically very unlikely to have the desired effect.

Another issue is the recent work to establish the presence of cancer stem cells. Our cells are bombarded every day with mutational environmental factors. Apoptosis and cell repair negate the effect on normal cells but many stem cells are in a dormant state creating an ideal reservoir for mutational impact to collect. If they are triggered into life their progeny can have their housekeeping functions mutated. e.g. apoptosis avoidance, aggressive growth & resistance to chemotherapy. This adds another dimension to his cancer evolution point.

In summary his hope seems well founded to us but only if this quality science is combined with the correct tools to create effective treatment. This means interpretation of the proteome in terms of proteomic systems to establish the vulnerability central to harming all or most cancer cells and their potential cancer stem cell creators. This systems level approach is all the more important given the very subtle differences between healthy cells & their cancer equivalents.

His talk highlights the waste of research capital and resource that can come with a mainstream focus on scratching around looking at gene differences between cancer & healthy cells. Endless informatics can lead to data that informs the process but it cannot be the process. We believe more balance of research is needed with a greater emphasis on the central points within proteomic systems that can have the generic effect he so elegantly describes.