Why does Cancer slip from our grasp? - A three-way talk
The idea was born in one of the many conferences in which Maria Mota, Managing Director of the João Lobo Antunes Institute of Molecular Medicine (iMM – JLB) participated as speaker. Bringing together several people with knowledge on different areas of intervention, a theme is launched and each of them looks at it from their own perspective.
"Adding creativity to the question, no matter how simple it may be and adding the reason of Science" may be the right equation that leads down the road to the answers, that was the challenge issued by Maria Mota. The iMM: Horizons talks: A question for three was asked on February 20 with the aim of debating the great issues of Science that are of concern to society.
“Why does cancer slip from our grasp?" It was the first of a series of talks mediated by the journalist and Chief Information Officer of Radio Renascença, Graça Franco, which brought together Luis Costa, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, principal investigator at the iMM and Director of the Department of Oncology of the Santa Maria, Hospital, Bruno Silva-Santos, also Professor at the Faculty, principal investigator and Deputy Director of the iMM, and Fernando Rosas, retired Professor and researcher of Contemporary History. Sharing their perspectives on the subject of cancer, the oncologist, the immunotherapy researcher and the cancer patient tried to pull the strings of a line of thought that, while being positive, can move away from the strong realistic base of the disease.
Faced with a diagnosis, does the patient want to know everything about the disease and exactly how long he has to left to live? Strengthening the overarching principle advocated by everyone, which is "there are no diseases, there are patients", the big issue is that "technically there are as many cancers as people who suffer from them". And while this allows broadening the spectrum of the clinical trials that have been taking place at Santa Maria and the prospect of treatments, Luis Costa recalls that "there is nothing that can let you be absolute certain that you have been cured". Still, he says that he "always tells the truth, but only as far as the patient wants to know".
Assisted by Luis Costa, Fernando Rosas has a neuroendocrine tumour (pancreas). He was diagnosed 12 years ago, and is currently being treated with a monthly injection and an MRI every 3 months. He says he is not afraid of death and believes that "life must be live intensely while it lasts". Despite this positive thinking, he reformulates the question that started the debate and asks: "why can't we escape cancer?".
"Initially seen almost as a heresy," he says that Immunology is now a line of treatment standing in the horizon of possible solutions when no other treatment is effective in the fight against cancer. As tennis balls struck back and forth in each question waiting for an answer, a new question for Bruno Silva-Santos enters into the debate. How does cancer appear? "It escaped the immune system," he explains. It is in the laboratory, strengthening the immune system, by multiplying millions of T-lymphocytes - good white blood cells - that we can increase the potential of winning the fight against cancer. "T-lymphocytes receive a number of chemical and biological compounds and multiply to generate one billion cells re-educated to follow their course in the immune system".
Bruno Silva-Santos says that they expect to carry out the first tests in humans with haematological tumours by the end of this year.
And in Fernando Rosas' question about the reason for the existence of human cells that cause death, the explanation may not have a final solution yet, but it's scientific, "they are uncontrolled genes that appear and grow", explains the physician Luis Costa. And researcher Bruno Silva-Santos adds, "altered life is what generates death".
How each person emotionally faces their own disease, the solutions they hang on to in order to speed up the treatment, or postpone their expiry date, how expectations are managed and uncertainties controlled. All these issues lead to questions and there is never a final answer. But perhaps in these talks, with balls that are struck back and forth, some lost, others won, maybe we can find a way to the right question, just like a ball can win us a match point .
The iMM has scheduled a new meeting for March, launching a new question. "Do you know why muscles become disobedient?" Moderated by Graça Franco and with the presence of Pedro Souto, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis patient, Mamede de Carvalho, Professor at the FMUL and researcher at the iMM and Edgar Gomes, researcher at the iMM and Professor at the FMUL, this time the talk will focus on neuromuscular diseases.
Watch the video of the first conversation here:
This and more information here.
Image credits: iMM