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Toward a Cure for Cancer & Alzheimer’s?

 It’s About How Cells (Fail to) Take Out the Trash

By Shlomo Maital

Prof. Ido Amit

   Prof. Ido Amit is a scientist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, and heads an immunology lab there.  On his website, he writes:  “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by trying and falling over.”  

     In this weekend’s Haaretz magazine, science writer Asaf Ronel has a lovely cover article (in Hebrew) about a possible breakthrough by Amit, in treating cancer and even Alzheimer’s.

     I will try to explain it.

     In order for cancer cells to spread through our bodies, they have to evade and defeat our immune system – specifically, immune cells that attack and kill these foreign invaders.  But how exactly do cancer cells defeat our immune system?

       Amit’s lab has perhaps discovered how.  Cancer cells, it is claimed,  latch on to specific cells in the body, whose purpose it is to ‘take out the trash’ made by the body’s cells, as they consume energy and do their jobs.  Cancer cells transform those kidnapped ‘garbage truck’ cells and  turn them into cells that that deprive the body’s cells of energy ..basically, making the ‘garbage trucks’ collect energy from the body’s immune-response cells and not just the trash. 

       Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune-response cells to identify and destroy cancer cells. But cancer cells can neutralize those immune-response cells by using the ‘garbage truck’ cells to deprive them of much-needed energy. Without energy, the immune cells can’t do their job.

       Amit’s lab believes it has a way to neutralize the kidnapped ‘garbage truck’ cells and disable them, so that the body’s tissues get the needed energy – in particular, the immune-response cells.   Once the immune-response cells get the needed energy, they are able to successfully attack and destroy the cancer cells.

        Several Pharma companies are at work on finding drugs that implement Amit’s approach.    There is hope that as a result,  many of the 10 million persons who die worldwide annually of cancer may be saved.  

         But wait.  There is more.

         We know that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia afflict 50 million people worldwide.  Alzheimer’s is linked to plaque that forms in the brain and ‘gums up the brain cells’, like putting sugar into someone’s gas tank (don’t try this at home) that gums up the carburetor or fuel injection. 

          Amit believes the cause may be the same ‘garbage truck’ cells in the brain, that somehow become unable to ‘take out the trash’ and get rid of the plaque and waste generated by brain cells (which generally work very hard every minute of the day).  As that trash accumulates in the brain, the brain ceases to function properly – more or less, like the streets of, say, Tel Aviv, when the garbage collectors go on strike and the trash accumulates in piles on streets and sidewalks..

       Amit says if we catch early-stage dementia, and repair the ‘garbage truck’ cells, maybe we can delay or prevent the disease’s onset and keep the brain cells trash-free..

        How soon will there be drugs that implement his finding?  Amit believes – two to four years

         Hang on there, Snoopy.  Help may be on the way. 

         To discover this, Amit had to invent new technologies that enable the study of individual cells.  He was told by experts that what he was attempting was impossible.  As with many breakthroughs,  he persisted. 

         I myself have survived prostate cancer, a close call,  and the only thing I really fear in this world is having my brain gummed up with plaque.  So I will follow Amit’s progress very closely.  A lot is at stake.    

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital

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