Dr. James DeGregori's Story
Dr. James DeGregori is smart. Very smart. I met him one afternoon in his lab a few weeks ago where it became clear that in a building full of smart people James might be the smartest. After spending time at MIT and Duke, James is now the Deputy Director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. James is one of the recipients of your donation when you support CellCycle. After patient education, advocacy and support and after all the work to improve healthcare systems and healthcare delivery for blood cancer patients, there stands James. Untying the knot of blood cancer one thread at a time. I asked James to share why your support is so important for blood cancer patients. Here is our conversation:
"Let's start with one simple question: Why Cancer?"
"I hate to break it to you, but your body is loaded with cancer-causing mutations. No matter who you are, we now know that cancer-causing mutations are quite common in our tissues, mostly resulting from random errors in copying DNA that occurs each time one of our cells divides. An adult human has roughly 40 trillion (40,000,000,000,000) cells. Even with very accurate duplication of DNA during cell divisions, pretty much every possible mutation will occur many times over. So why do the majority of us go through most of our lives without getting cancer? Even when we do get cancer, it typically occurs at older ages, initiating from a single cell. One critical mechanism that we have evolved to not get cancer is the maintenance of healthy tissues. Healthy tissues favor normal cells over cells with cancer-causing mutations – the good guys win. We evolved to maintain healthy tissues through the period of life when reproductive success was most likely – youth. We did not evolve to maintain our bodies forever, but only long enough to maximize the odds of passing our genes on. Thus, bodies decline at ages beyond the years of likely reproduction. When our tissues decline with in old age, now cells with cancer-causing mutations can be favored, sometimes leading to cancer development."
"That is fairly depressing."
"Before I get you totally depressed, there is something you can do about it. While we cannot avoid aging or completely eliminate cancer risk, we can improve our odds. Healthy lifestyles, including a good diet, exercise and not smoking, promote better maintenance of healthy tissues. These healthy tissues will then favor normal cells over cancerous ones, at least most of the time. The same cell with a cancer-causing mutation that can thrive in a smoker’s lung should be typically suppressed in the lungs of a non-smoker. Just like the best way to limit the gang problem in cities to provide a healthy infrastructure, the best way to avoid cancer is to maintain healthy tissues."
"After a person has made healthy decisions, how does your work help blood cancer patients?"
Let’s expound on the gang problem analogy. If a society has problems with gangs, their first approach is typically to make mass arrests. However, the wilier and nastier gangs will persist, and the gang problem will rebound in an even nastier form. The better solution to gangs is to foster a healthier infrastructure (better opportunities for occupants) that is less conducive to gangs. Similarly, to treat cancer, strategies typically involve targeting the cancer cells, often with chemo or radiation therapies that also damage normal tissue. Thus, not only is there strong pressure that fosters the evolution of therapy-resistant cancer cells, but the damaged environment will further select for cancer cells that are “wilier and nastier”. Our research helps develop therapies that eliminate cancer cells with minimal damage to the tissue environment, which is already the case for some newer targeted therapies. We work to provide targeted therapies that can be paired with interventions that engender a tissue landscape that is more conducive to normal cells rather than cancer cells. A healthy environment promotes healthy lifestyles. Even for the cells in our bodies."
I wanted to share James' conversation with you because I want you to know how important your support is to CellCycle. CellCycle's goal is to promote health with our events and provide money and awareness for individuals with blood cancer. I could not have married these concepts better than James does in our discussion. If you donated last year, please consider donating again. If you have never donated, give us a try. Your donation is crucial to the work we do and the work we hope to do in the future. We need your help.