If only cancer were a simple disease, finding a cure might not be so difficult. But cancer is a very complicated disease – an intricate and potentially lethal collaboration of (a) genes gone awry; (b) growth inhibitors gone missing; (c) hormones and epigenomes changing; and (d) rogue cells breaking free. (Epigenomes are chemical compounds that “give instructions” to the genomes in one’s body).
This was one of the themes of a presentation at the Pattaya City Expats Club’s (PCEC) meeting on April 20 by Dr. Roslin Russell, PhD. She is the daughter of PCEC member David Russell; born in Thailand, she holds both Thai and British nationality. She is a Senior Computational Biologist at the Cambridge Research Institute in the UK.
Roslin poses with PCEC Members Polo, Al, & Paul and Les, and her father David Russell (with beard) and husband Andrew, following the meeting.
The Cambridge Research Institute, UK is known by the acronym CRUK and it is one of the world’s leading cancer research facilities. Dr. Russell has been there eight years where she and her colleagues use state of the art techniques to identify molecular markers for different types of cancer.
“Cancer works like great armed forces, attacking by the equivalent of air, land, sea and stealth,” Dr. Russell said. “Finding a cure will take not one hero but many. It requires team-based, cross-disciplinary approaches to research.” Dr. Russell explained that cancer works in many different ways, and that when we attack one pathway, the cancer finds another one.
Following Roslin’s very comprehensive talk, club Chairman Pat Koester presented her with a PCEC ‘Certificate of Appreciation’.
Why study cancer? Dr. Russell said that each year, more than 275,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK. More than one in three people develop cancer at some stage in their lives. About one in every four deaths in the UK is attributable to cancer. There are over 200 different types of cancer. The four most common cancers are breast, lung, prostate and bowel. In females, breast cancer constitutes 30% of all cancers. In males, prostate cancer accounts for 25% of all cancers.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the lesser known cancers, but it is a very deadly one. It is always detected too late. Only 25% of people with pancreatic cancer manage to live for up to one year after diagnosis. And yet, pancreatic cancer research receives little funding. Research for pancreatic cancer is actually down 13% in the past year, Dr. Russell said.
Contrary to what you might expect, cancer is not a modern lifestyle disease. It has been around since at least 3,000 B.C. In fact, studying very old cases of cancer and comparing them to modern cases can help advance our research.
Cancer affects both developed countries and less developed countries. In the developing world, there are 4.8 million deaths each year from cancer, compared to 2.1 million from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), 1.1 million from tuberculosis (TB) and 711,000 from malaria. And yet, Dr. Russell said, funding for cancer research lags far behind funding for HIV, TB and malaria research. The World Health Organization warns that because we have an aging population, a “tidal wave” of cancer is on the horizon.
Dr. Roslin Russell, PhD, is the daughter of PCEC member David Russell; born in Thailand, she holds both Thai and British nationality. She is a Senior Computational Biologist at the Cambridge Research Institute in the UK. Roslin was guest speaker at PCEC meeting on Sunday, the 20th of April, on the topic of ‘the state of the art in cancer research & prevention’.
The major sources of preventable cancer are: smoking; infections; alcohol, obesity and inactivity; radiation, both from the sun and medical scans; air pollution and other environmental factors; and delayed parenthood, having fewer children and not breastfeeding.
As well, the human papilloma virus can cause cervical cancer and several other cancers. Cervical cancer remains a major killer. There is a vaccine that should be given to pre-pubescent girls, but it has to be a mass campaign if it going to have any significant effect at a societal level.
In addition, chronic inflammation has been known to cause cancer. This has to do with how active one’s immune system is. It can be asymptomatic and it is more of a problem the older a person is.
Certain kinds of bacteria can actually help to prevent cancer. There is at least 10 times the number of bacteria in the human body than cells, Dr. Russell explained. There is both good and bad bacteria in our guts. The bad type is called “bacteroidetes”; these bacteria come from a diet high in fat and protein. The good type is called “firmicutes.” These bacteria stem from a plant-based diet, which produces fatty acids beneficial to our body, and which controls the proliferation of cells in the intestine and is thought to possess anti-carcinogenic properties.
Dr Russell described the difference between normal, healthy cell division and the out-of-control cell division that causes cancer. She said that the physics of cancer are known, and that finding cures – or, more realistically, finding ways to successfully manage cancer – will require a massive engineering effort. She compared it to putting a man on the moon 45 years ago.
After David’s presentation, Master of Ceremonies Roy Albiston brought everyone up to date on upcoming events and called on Jerry Dean to conduct the Open Forum where questions are asked and answered about Expat living in Thailand, especially Pattaya.
For more information on the many activities of the PCEC, visit their website at www.pcecclub.org.