In the past year, we have seen the impact of money on science as the COVID vaccine was developed in record time. With this in mind, we posed the question “If unlimited funds were available, could we find a cure for cancer?” to several past Tower Cancer Research Foundation grant recipients. The following are their thoughts on the matter.
While I don’t think anyone would argue that unlimited funds would do wonders for any scientific research topic, unfortunately, I don’t think cancer is a disease that will ever be cured and as such, is unlikely to be eliminated as a condition that plagues humanity.
One of the most fascinating and at the same time most detrimental aspects of cancer is how the biology of cancer evolves over time. For every major discovery made, dozens of new questions arise.
Cancer cells demonstrate the imperfection of human biology in that mutations and misfired signals drive their existence. The good news is, there is never a shortage of mysteries to solve in trying to understand how normal cells become cancer cells, or how they evade the incredibly complex immune response. But the bad news is, cancer always remains many steps ahead.
As scientists, we are also evolving our research approaches, technology, and methodology. As a result, I do believe that we will cure some cancers and unlimited funds could certainly hasten these Nobel discoveries. Cancer cannot be thought of as one disease but more accurately represents many diseases. So unlimited funds, provided to brilliant minds, would promote the discovery of cures for some cancers, but I think cancer as a compilation of diseases is unfortunately here to stay.
To end on a positive note, the strides we have made in the treatment of cancers have turned many previously terminal illnesses into chronic, manageable conditions and this translates to improved quality of life for many people. As we have witnessed over the course of the covid-19 pandemic, global efforts supported by major funds promoted team science that brought forth technology such as mRNA vaccines, which have been slower to reach people, to the forefront of bringing an end to this pandemic. know unlimited funds are out of reach so for now, we will continue to compete for funds to motivate us to conduct the most meaningful and productive research of cancer. We will continue to strive for a cure and celebrate the achievement of prolonging life even if a cure is not achieved.
Unlimited funding could lead to the elimination of cancer as one of the most common causes of mortality and make it a “disease of the past”.
But funding needs to be paired with physician-scientists that are creative and have the discovery capabilities, and ability to implement the novel therapies developed by the scientific and medical community.
The outlook for patients with cancer has been continuously improving. Over the last two decades, in particular, the clinical perspectives for patients with a large variety of common cancers has dramatically improved in terms of their disease-free survival and overall survival. Increasing the focus on prevention, screening, accurate diagnosis, and new treatments that not only improve survival with limited risks for the health and well-being of cancer patients, but ultimately lead to a cancer-free status, should represent the goals of all persons working with cancer patients. Unlimited resources would greatly accelerate the speed with which these advancements are currently being made with limited funding.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 edition of Tower Magazine
Interview conducted with: Evanthia Roussos Torres, MD/PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Oncology, University of Southern California, Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center & Michael F. Press, MD, PhD, Professor of Pathology, Harold E. Lee Chair in Cancer Research, Director of Breast Cancer Analysis Lab, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California