A new discovery from a joint venture of M.I.T. and Harvard has devised a test to see if experimental chemicals can kill cancer stem cells – the “mother,” if you will of millions of other cancer cells that mature and spread. Their theory is that, in many solid tumor types, unless you kill the cancer stem cells along with the mature cancer cells often annihilated by chemotherapy, the cancer will come back.

The hope is, new drugs that pass the test of killing cancer stem cells can be used in combination with drugs that kill mature cancer cells and, together, they will produce a cure.

If they are right and effective drugs follow THIS COULD BE A BIG DEAL in moving past the idea of treating cancer as a chronic condition, at best, and actually returning people to full good health.

Wait! Some other smart scientists challenge the stem cell idea. They argue you can kill the stem cells and the cancer may still come back – they are not sure why. So a great debate among medical science gurus is raging.

It does have the marks, though, of encouraging science that could translate into breakthroughs. As you may know, most positive cancer research moves things forward incrementally…small steps. My hope, and apparently that of the editors of The New York Times who made this the lead story today, is that the stem cell testing discovery is really significant.

Too many times in the past I have met women who were treated for breast cancer 10 or 15 years ago, thought they were cured, only to find it had come back. How does this happen? Did the few stem cells that were missed eventually rev up the breast cancer engine once again?

The experts back in Massachusetts say if their testing identifies stem cell killing drugs that can work with drugs that kill the mature cancer cells they might be able to greatly reduce the dosages of the drugs. As anyone who has received chemo therapy knows, today’s drugs typically have big side effects immediately and now we are finding more even decades later. If drug dosages can be reduced and new combinations can kill all the cancer cells, stem cells included, we may not only end up with cures, but also much kinder, gentler treatments to get there.

I’d love to tell you this is big news for us today. It isn’t. But a few years ago I remember another article in The New York Times, a controversial one about Judah Folkman’s discovery of the alternate blood supply systems cancer cells develop. By cutting off the blood supply to cancer cells in mice he was able to cure or slow the cancer. A debate raged then too. Cancer could often be cured or slowed in mice but it didn’t translate into the same positive result in humans. Well, guess what? Dr. Folkman’s discovery gave rise to a new class of “anti-angiogenesis” drugs like Avastin that are highly effective in lengthening the lives of people with advanced breast, lung and colon cancer.

So the point is, significant discoveries can and do make a difference in our lifetime even when the war on cancer seems to move glacially slow.

I am encouraged!

Wishing you and your family the best of health,

Andrew