Drum roll and trumpets please! A new cancer causing pathway has been found. It involves telomeres of course.
I bring it to your attention though, not for what it has shown us, but for how it its marketed. You see even scientists know they stand a better chance of getting recognition if they blow the trumpets and role the drums. That means press releases and social media nonsense that is written by non scientists.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I give them the same “get out of jail pass” I often claim: “I didn’t make this world, I just live in it!”
Still as your source of the truth about all things telomere related, especially when it comes to your health and your understanding, I consider it my calling in life to make sure you are not blown all over the map by media hype and internet nonsense.
So let’s go over a few facts:
1) Fact one: Telomerase does NOT CAUSE CANCER. Every time I write this I hope it is my last but that is never the case it seems. 85% of human cancers turn on telomerase somewhere in the process of becoming cancer. In the one or two cases we are clear on its actually one of the last steps ( villous adenoma to colon cancer) but cancer genetics are a diverse thing and no one knows the exact sequence that mutations happen in all cancers. There is a growing contingent of people out there who feel that contrary to 65 years of research, cancer may not even be a genetic disease. When telomerase is expressed in cancer it can be a) mutated, b) amplified c) transposed d) any other genetic abnormality that can lead to over expression! The key is to understand that things happen to cause cancer long before telomerase expression shows up to immortalize the cells, and that those things lead to the loss of normal control of many genes and their end products. Telomerase over expression does not seem to cause cancer by itself in the absence of other major changes.
2) Telomerase is required for ultra long longevity and gene integrity in cells. Two of the best examples are germ cells (the things that become sperm and eggs) where there is a large amount of telomerase expression and stem cells where there is less. The later fact is probably one of the main reasons stem cells age albeit at a slower rate than the rest of our cells.
3) There are normal “cell cycle check point” mechanisms that have been known for some time now that need to be bypassed in order for cancer to take hold.
4) Longer telomeres are associated with a cleaner genome (fewer mutations) cleaner mitochondrial cell powerhouses (fewer mutations better function and better ability to make new mitochondria) and a lower and less sever incidence of cancer.
5) While most cancers turn on telomerase there is another way for cancer cells to lengthen their telomeres and survive that does not involve telomerase. This generally is reserved for the badest of the bad in terms of genetic instability (actually if I am being scientifically correct its “genomic instability” but you know what I mean!). This mechanism is called ALT.
6) The ability to divide endlessly either using telomerase or ALT is one of the hallmarks of human cancer.
That brings me to the “latest findings”.
One Dr Jan Karlseder of the Salk institute discovered one of the mechanisms behind the ALT method of lengthening telomeres. Dr Karlseder found a protein called ASF-1 that drops down to zero and triggers cells in culture to use the ALT mechanism to lengthen their telomeres.
All well and good but here are my gripes.
Cancers in real life have measurable levels of that protein. It does not drop to zero in ALT driven cancers.
The super irritating insinuation that I see in all such articles “This will help us develop drugs to fight cancer” is present here. Cancer drugs are expensive, Cancer drugs are deadly, Cancer drugs divert research away from, gasp, cancer prevention which no scientists is willing to admit they believe in. And there is no money in prevention. If you think this is a joke mark my words a cancer preventative treatment that is not a patentable drug will not be released until a drug company owns it. At least not over their dead bodies. That said most of the quacks who claim to have cured cancer and have been jailed for such statements actually do belong there!
Next, the press release is entitled “Cancer Causing Pathway Explained”.
Now I bet this was the sole concoction of the press release company. I do not think that such smart scientists would allow their discovery to be called named this way. The ALT pathway does not cause cancer, it is probably one of the last or later pieces in the puzzle. By naming it this way they are propogating the myth that telomeres are responsible for cancer.
Next there is the usual talk of “balancing cell aging with risk of cancer” . This implies that we get old and die to prevent cancer from killing us. After I am done with the LOL ing I want to remind everyone that old cells, senescent cells seem to excrete inflammatory and yes cancer causing signals. For this reason it seems nonsensical to propose that getting old protects us from cancer. Especially when cancer is a disease of aging in 95% of all cases!
Summing it up, I would say it this way: We are barking up the wrong tree. Telomerase and telomere lengthening are cancer protective under normal circumstances. Guys you have to keep looking for the chicken that is laying the egg not examining the ingredients in the omelet! This is also the reason I am intrigued if not convinced of the metabolic cause/component of cancer. The genetic stuff leads nowhere but to an ever increasingly large ‘room full of pathways’ that has no end. Great for researchers and crappy for people who have or want to prevent getting cancer.
There are quite a number of famous scientists who are doing just that even though they will not say it in front of their peers for fear of ridicule. Me? I don’t care who ridicules me. I refuse to sit on my ass and get old when there are real answers to slowing and eventually stopping the process.
I will make this prediction. Classic science just like classic medicine will not make major breakthroughs in aging and health span. They will trumpet their findings just like the article above but the real breakthroughs will come from people who are actively seeking the answers and doing something about it every day .
That is you and me my friend!
Best, Dr Dave