Thursday, July 27, 2006

until our shells simply cannot hold all our insides in

Anyway, what are you going to do? Sometimes you come home and your bicycle has been stolen. It was a bit demoralizing considering that I had just come back from volunteering (karma police, arrest this man), and it was a bit concerning because it was an unforced entry, but, hey, I do live in the Mission, so- when you're rolling to the carnival, anything can happen. Oh yeah, you know it's bad when I am quoting solo Wyclef Jean projects.

Let's talk about Lance instead. Oh no. I am not going to get into the doping controversy surrounding Armstrong, or the potential Landis doping scandal that has just emerged. That is for the biking enthusiasts to sort out. But it seems the reason Lance Armstrong's Tour De France wins have always had a larger-than-life quality to them has been his fight with testicular cancer.

Usually, you hear the big C, and your stomach drops, and words like one-year survival take on a whole new meaning. Lance Armstrong had advanced, metastatic testicular cancer, but survived. And he won all his yellow jerseys after recovering from cancer.

Usually when you hear the word metastatic associated with cancer, this is another wave of stomach turns. Cancer, after all, is an insidious bastard. It takes its time and hurries up. Cancer cells can take years to form a tumor. But it those cells manage to form a tumor, they can then become invasive, and yes, that’s as bad as it sounds. When cancer becomes metastatic, it means that the tumor is not only actively dividing, but now has broken through its original site and traveled to other parts of the body. So, in short, bad news.

And yet, for patients with metastatic testicular cancer, not so bad. People, stay with me here. I know I had a long wind-up, but this is actually the part I find interesting. Patients with advanced testicular cancer tend to do a lot better than other patients with other advanced cancers. Why would this be? A review in JAMA (registration required) suggests it is about heat.

Normal testicular germ cells live at a different, lower temperature than the rest of the body. In fact, testicular germ cells have been found to be prone to dying when placed at normal body temperature. So, even though a testicular cancer cell may have gone rogue and made it out of the testes, multiplying furiously, it may still retain that Achilles’ heal of thermal sensitivity. And so, these types of cancer cells might be easier to kill by conventional cancer treatments. Nuts, huh? Whoops… puns might be inappropriate here.

Scientists are trying to figure out how to manipulate cell temperature to mimic this sensitivity in other cancer cells. Way back in the day, they tried this, but could not go about it in a useful way, because they wound up heating good cells and bad alike. Now, they are doing experiments to use nanotechnology to deliver particles to cancerous cells selectively such that, zap, you can heat them from the inside. Implosions. I lurve it!

Furthermore, scientists have also uncovered a set of proteins that cells use to defend against excessive heat. These heat shock proteins (Hsp’s) have all kinds of functions. And it may well be that inhibition of these proteins (one in particular, Hsp90, is already showing promise) could help kill cancer cells.

This kind of thing sets my brain on fire. Because how neat is it, to jump along the stones in the water- testes are at a lower temperature than the rest of the body, jump, heat plays a role in certain types of cells’ viability, jump, making them more susceptible to chemotherapy/radiation, jump, how can we take this heat-sensitivity and manipulate it such that we can use it to kill other types of cancer cells?

All of this makes me very hopeful for my job switch. If I make the jump, I may have to go to NYC at the end of August, all surreptitious-like. But it will be to nerd out on such geeky shizz as what I just babbled about interminably.

In other news, somewhere in SF, j-money is wandering around with her family. If by some chance or circumstance, we wind up connecting, I will be ecstatic, and will undoubtedly spend the entire time begging her to resurrect her blog. Also, where the heck is Michael Kors when you need him?!?

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