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Cancer-Defective Genes or Excessive Chromosomes?

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The vast majority of current research into the underlying mechanisms of cancer is directed at the search for defective genes, even though they are found in only a minority of cancers, and it is hard to explain why inherited cancer genes would not cause cancer early on in life.

The vast majority of current research into the underlying mechanisms of cancer is directed at the search for defective genes, even though they are found in only a minority of cancers, and it is hard to explain why inherited cancer genes would not cause cancer early on in life.

German biologist Theodor Boveri proposed in 1914 that an abnormally high number of chromosomes (aneuploidy) was the cause of cancer, after he found it in all tumour cells he examined. Normal human cells have 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. An aneuploid cell will usually have a higher number (sometimes lower), and usually will not divide properly, resulting in two cells with different numbers of chromosomes. On average, cancerous cells have one and a half to two times the normal level. Occasionally, the uneven chromosome numbers produce the unbalanced cellular metabolism characteristic of cancer cells.

Boveri's theory was blocked for more than 80 years because the abnormal chromosome numbers were not consistent even in the same tumour, let alone in the same type of cancer, and reductionist scientists demanded a single cause for a single effect.

Some might dismiss this revived theory because a leading proponent is Peter Duesberg who in 1987 rocked the scientific community with a paper claiming that HIV does not cause AIDS (a view he still holds). Another proponent is David Rasnick, who has published similar ideas.

Their aneuploidy research has not been published in prestigious journals such as Nature perhaps due to antagonism from those like former editor John Maddox who previously published editorials criticizing Duesberg's views on AIDS without allowing him the right of reply. The journal would lose face by publishing his work now.

However, Nature is publishing articles on aneuploidy, which, if you examine the fine print, rely on the work of Duesberg. These scientists are, however, trying to position aneuploidy as only the result of genetic mutations a rearguard attempt to save the gene theory.

Aneuploidy research does have practical value, even to people currently living with cancer. Acceptance would lead to research into compounds that cause aneuploidy, not just mutations, and could result in more useful tests for carcinogenicity. Tests for aneuploidy could more precisely identify pre-cancerous cells.

Most genetic tests and gene therapy would be eliminated along with tragedies such as women undergoing mastectomies for fear of their genes.

Even curing cancer may be easier. Rasnick argues that the chaotic stability of an aneuploid tumour can be easily disrupted by environmental changes, such as major changes in diet, an infectious disease or even pregnancy, all of which have been associated with spontaneous remission.

Rasnick and Duesberg agree that aneuploidy is not the root cause of cancer, just a trigger on the pathway from carcinogen to cancer. The dangers posed by toxins, and the importance of prevention through clean food, water, and air should not be ignored.

Glossary

Aneuploid - A cell that is either missing some chromosomes or has more than two chromosomes, or both.

Chromosome - A strand of DNA consisting of many genes and other elements.

Gene - A portion of chromosome that encodes for a single protein.

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