Sunday, June 24, 2007

'Golden bullet' may be cancer hunter and killer

A "GOLDEN bullet" treatment for cancer which tracks down tumours before wiping them out with a blast of heat is to be tested on patients within weeks, it was revealed yesterday. The "seek and destroy" technique uses an injection of microscopic glass spheres, coated in gold, which seek out potentially deadly cancers in the body. Once enough spheres have flocked to the tumour, doctors "activate" them using a low energy beam of light. In tests, tumours have been totally destroyed.

Unlike conventional cancer treatments, the golden bullet approach uses no toxic chemicals and no radiation, reducing the risk of unpleasant side effects. It could also be far cheaper than existing treatments. Cancer scientists have predicted that it could help tackle a range of potentially deadly diseases, from skin cancers to cancers of the cervix, breast, brain and neck.

Tests on mice found that the treatment worked exceptionally well, New Scientist magazine reported yesterday. When it was tried on nine mice with colon cancer, the tumours were destroyed. Rice University (Texas) professor Jennifer West, who helped develop the treatment, said clinical trials on cancer patients were expected to begin in the US within weeks.

The first phase will find out whether the treatment successfully kills off tumours. A second stage, due to start in a couple of years, will test the particles' ability to identify tumours. "From the work we have done so far, we believe that this therapy will work on any soft-tissue tumours, such as the breast, prostate, brain, skin, head, neck and cervix," Professor West said.

Cancer Council Queensland director of community services and research programs Associate Professor Suzanne Steginga said the emergence of nanotechnology as a potential area for cancer treatment emphasised the critical importance of research. "The question, of course, will be how this work transfers from animal to human models, and this will take some years to answer," she said. "We wait with great interest for the outcomes of these trials."

The golden bullet treatment is not the first to use "nanoparticles" . Past studies have shown that microscopic capsules injected into the bloodstream can deliver drugs directly to tumours.


In Defense of Andrew Speaker

Now that the initial shock and outrage over the case of Andrew Speaker - who flew to Europe and back despite having a drug-resistant strain of TB - have died down, we're hearing the predictable cries for more government power and money. Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC, told lawmakers in early June, "If we believe the patient has a strong intent to put others at risk, we need to have confidence we can take action absent documentation of intent to cause harm." And just this Sunday, a typical editorial in The Republican concludes:

Speaker is now in medical isolation in Denver. His close call must serve as a wake-up call. Specialists have been sounding the alarm. They want more federal money for research, education and outreach. And they want the authority to forcibly quarantine someone with a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. They should get all of that - and soon.

Cases of medical quarantine are classic examples of situations where the rights of the individual are supposedly trumped by the safety of the community. After all, when people's decisions have consequences beyond their private lives, the government should and must intervene.

In contrast to this conventional wisdom, permit me to make a case for the exact opposite conclusion. I claim that the Andrew Speaker case beautifully illustrates the incompetence of government programs, and proves that the free market is the best system to referee complicated situations like this.

First some background that may change your opinion of Speaker: Based on what you've heard, he must be a very selfish guy, right? Well maybe, but one theory is that Speaker might have contracted TB when he was doing charity work for sick people in Vietnam.

Speaker has said time and again that health officials told him he wasn't a threat to anybody. Before he left for Europe, he was walking around freely, practicing law, interacting with his fianc‚e and her young daughter, and so forth. Anyone who's planned a wedding knows it's a logistical nightmare. Is it so shocking that Speaker decided to go ahead with his travel plans, rather than canceling his international tickets and other arrangements, so that he could stay in the US and continue to walk around freely with his TB that wasn't contagious?

When the scandal first broke, various health officials pooh-poohed Speaker's claims that he had been repeatedly told that he posed no threat to anyone. Yet Speaker's father surreptitiously taped one of the conversations, in which Dr. Eric Benning, medical director of the Fulton County health department, clearly tells Speaker "because of the fact that you actually are not contagious, there's no reason for you to be sequestered," and "As far as we can tell, you are not a threat to anybody right now."

Further proof that Speaker honestly believed he wasn't putting anyone in danger: Both sets of parents were present at the wedding, and he kissed his new bride on the mouth! And it's not just that these were six woefully ignorant people. In an ironic twist, Speaker's new father-in-law has a Ph.D. in microbiology and is a CDC expert in.drumroll please.tuberculosis! (You couldn't have made this stuff up.)

Now at this point in the saga, the CDC got a hold of Speaker and told him his strain of TB was more drug resistant than previously thought, and that he needed to either book a $100,000 private jet home (at his expense) or check himself into an Italian facility "indefinitely." Again, he wasn't told he was contagious; they advised him to take a walk and go to dinner before turning himself in.

Yes, at this point Speaker and his new bride definitely flouted their orders, and booked a flight to Canada (to avoid the US "no-fly" list), and then drove a rental car through border security without (they claim) lying about their identities. Before his trip, Speaker had been told that treatment in Denver was his one shot for survival, and he was afraid being detained in Italy would be a death sentence.

Now I ask, how in the world does this sordid tale justify more money and power for the CDC and other health officials? Suppose things had gone the opposite way, and that the feds had successfully coordinated with the airlines to prevent Speaker from flying to or from Europe. Surely newspaper editorialists would've congratulated the government on a job well done, and thanked their lucky stars that our society places limits on people's individual liberties.

So then why is it that when the government botches the job, again the conclusion is the same - to wit, we need the government to take away more liberties? If the government is so incompetent that it didn't even catch the newlyweds as they crossed the border from Canada through a regular checkpoint, why should we trust it to protect us from future outbreaks of contagious diseases?

Make no mistake, if the government didn't arrogate to itself the right to handle these life-or-death issues, the free market would fill the void. In a purely capitalist setup, it would be horrible for business if an airline allowed infectious passengers to fly internationally. Yet in today's world, airlines won't be punished for this carelessness, since travelers will assume "the government takes care of that type of thing." How many readers even know which airline Andrew Speaker used?

Some readers might object and say, "Wait a minute! Yes, the government fumbled the ball on this one, but so did the private airline. Neither agency prevented Speaker from putting people in danger."

But this isn't true. Suppose airline carriers instituted their own passenger rating system, and declined service to those it deemed infectious (or terrorist risks, for that matter). If these people were A-OK according to the government's list, then they could easily sue for baseless discrimination. So we see, the way the system works right now, if the government gets involved in something, it doesn't just supplement - it takes over.

The government botches just about everything it touches, whether it's schools, housing projects, reconstructing Iraq, or keeping the public safe from TB. Maybe it's time we quarantined the CDC and let the free market take a shot.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.


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